Paper is an integral part of the Japanese culture. Together with dyes, pigments, and woodblocks, decorative paper such as karakami makes it more interesting for poets to write on, but how exactly do craftsmen produce decorative karakami paper?
Before karakami became a wallpaper and a cover for the sliding door (fusuma), it was popularly used during the ancient times for writing. Today, the Karacho studio in Kyoto is perhaps the only surviving studio that produces karakami papers in Japan. The technique used in making karakami may appear quite similar to the nishiki-e (brocade picture) method or the textile printing method.
What separates karakami as a decorative paper art is that it uses simple designs and mica which gives a luster effect to the pigment when the light hits the paper particularly in a half-lit room.
Although karakami involves woodblocks in printing designs, it is also very different from the traditional block printing techniques used in textiles. Craftsmen use deeper carvings for prints and a specific kind of wood called Magnolia obovata (ho). A design such as those in the printed textile is drawn to make a concealed repeat. The size of the block varies depending on the size of the paper.
Now what happens before printing? Once the size of the paper is determined, the paper is brushed with dye for the background color. The color to be used for the prints is made by mixing mica with rice paste (nori) and a pigment with seaweed paste (funori).
Instead of using a regular brush to paint the woodblock, craftsmen use a furui–a silk gauze stretched over a ring of wood. The furui loaded with dye is then tapped into the woodblock before the paper is laid over the block. The reverse side of the paper is rubbed using the palm.
Rubbing provides a soft appearance to the karakami. Compared to other decorative papers which use the brush in woodblocks, the printed edge produced in karakami is less sharp. Thus, the appearance of the paper looks printed rather than stamped.
Karakami is divided into four motifs: imperial family motifs, tea ceremony motifs, samurai motifs, and temple and shrine motifs. Today, the art of karakami still retains a huge following in Kyoto.