Located in the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City has been attracting many tourists with its rich nature, traditional arts and crafts, and unique culture for many years.
It stands as an officially accredited "International Tourist and Cultural City". Many spots like the famous Kinkaku-ji and the breathtaking Arashiyama bamboo forest are well-known inside and outside the nation.
The city is home to many traditional crafts. Preserving its traditional arts and crafts culture, the city keeps drawing everyone's attention to such treasures from the old days, while integrating itself with modern-day development.
Karakami - Ancient Paper Shining through the Times
In 1902, Nishimura Korokudo started a business as a picture framer and teacher. The company later became a wholesaler named Maruni Shoten to produce Karakami, crafted paper, using traditional methods.
“Kyo” means Kyoto, and “Karakami” directly translates to Chinese paper. Ever since the paper was brought back to Japan from China during the Tang dynasty by a Japanese envoy about 1300 years ago, the production method has been passed down until this day in Kyoto.
This crafted Chinese paper with patterns was quite expensive in Japan. Back then, people used it to write letters and Japanese poems on. You can see Karakami in some existing works, such as Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry. The mica of Karakami still continues to have its luster even after 1000 years.
When it comes to Karakami, many people think of fusuma — paper screens for sliding doors. That is probably because Karakami was at the height of its popularity during the Edo period (1603 - 1868) when people started using it mainly for fusuma screens. The craft has been passed down through the generations to the present, and today, it continues to give life to interiors in the way of fusuma screens, wallpapers, and the like.
Maruni never ceases to attract new audiences to modern spaces using its traditional techniques. With their experience as a fusuma and picture frame wholesaler, their craftsmanship makes the art of Karakami even more fascinating.
Exquisite Beauty in the Palm of Your Hand
Maruni has over 300 woodblocks that have been handed down from 180 years ago, and these pieces are hand-carved with traditional patterns.
The paints mixed with mica, funori glue, and pigments are applied softly to the woodblocks with a sieve and printed with the palm of the hand without using a baren or any other tool.
This method of hand-rubbing a sheet of washi, traditional Japanese paper, one by one makes Kyo Karakami very unique. Also, for a pattern to come out clearly, the paints are applied twice for each sheet. The charm of Kyo Karakami lies in the fact that the finish of each print is not consistent due to this manual process, which produces a unique texture that is difficult to achieve with machine printing.
Maruni has been challenging itself to expand its business into other dimensions. One such development, Urushi Karakami, makes Maruni products stand out even more. Urushi, natural sap collected from the urushi tree, is used to superimpose designs over Karakami. It produces a unique, soft, and glossy pattern that matches the matte texture of the underlying Karakami beautifully. The result is quite mesmerizing and ethereal.
Peak into the Unknown World of Kyo Karakami
While interacting with a number of artisans involved in Japanese crafts like fusuma screens and hanging scrolls, Maruni witnessed the difficulties and charms of producing handicrafts.
With these artisans' feelings in mind, Maruni is determined to blend traditional craft into modern lifestyles so that this beautiful art will be passed down to future generations.
To make this happen, the company has been offering workshops where customers can enjoy the experience of crafting Kyo Karakami. Housed in the same building is a gift shop where they can pop in anytime. Their products surely help visitors understand the charms of Kyo Karakami.
Dive into the world normally only seen by artisans. You will be captivated by the unknown charms of Kyo Karakami.
Masao Nishimura, founder of Maruni Shoten, was awarded the Fifth Orders of the Sacred Treasure in 1979.