September 17, 2017

by Mayumi Otsuka, Mai Takezawa and Kanako Wakamatsu

Have you heard of the traditional paper craft in Japan? It is called washi. Paper craft is one of the important Japanese traditional arts. There are several styles of paper craft in Japan, such as tosawashi in Kochi, obarawashi in Aichi, and narushimawashi in Iwate. Kurotaniwashi, however, is the famous paper craft of Kyoto. Kurotaniwashi is often referred to as “The most beautiful paper craft in Japan.” In this article, we will explain to you all about kurotaniwashi: its history, how it is made, and its use in popular souvenirs.



History of Kurotaniwashi

Kurotaniwashi has a very long history, starting over 800 years ago. Surviving soldiers of the Heike clan had escaped from Genzi pursuers and had hidden in a village in a mountain valley. Those surviving soldiers started papermaking as a livelihood. Since then, that village became famous for papermaking, as most of the villagers are took part in papermaking process in one form or another. The name of the village was “Kurotanimura” so the paper craft came to be named kurotaniwashi.

Originally, kurotaniwashi was used in the making of various practical tools for living, such as lights and sliding doors made with paper and wood. However, at the beginning of Edo period, kurotaniwashi began to gradually be used in not only tools for living, but also in works of art and in artistic ways. The reason is that the village was close to Kyoto and the paper was of very high quality. Some of main products of Kurotaniwashi in Edo era was related to Kyo-gohuku. Kyo-gohuku is generally point to textile product that made by silk fiber. After the Meiji period, the silk industry took off and began to develop rapidly. Therefore, the demand of the products made with silk increased. With developing of the silk industry, demand of the product for cocoon bag became high. Cocoon bag is necessary tool for raise silkworm for that silk, and that cocoon bag are mostly made by paper. As you can see, kurotaniwashi was used for art products and industrial products, but nowadays it is frequently used for daily products. For example, some post cards and letter paper are made from kurotaniwashi. In this way, the culture of using craft paper became more widely known and practiced in Japan. Eventually, kurotaniwashi came to be designated as an intangible cultural property of Kyoto prefecture. Over the years, several large fires have occurred in the village. During those fires, some of the most important historical documents were burned, so it was difficult to determine the details of its origins. Nevertheless, it is said that kurotaniwashi is the oldest type of paper that exists now in Japan.

How to Make Kurotaniwashi

Kurotaniwashi is made from Paper Mulberry (broussonetia papyrefera), a kind of tree that is called kouzo in Japanese. It grows to a height of over 3 meters. The first step is to harvest the wood. They cut down the tree without leaves in the winter. Next, they put the wood in a big barrel and steam it in a furnace for 3 hours. The part of the process is called kagomushi in Japanese. “Kago” means basket, and “Mushi” means steam in English. After that, the craftsman starts de-barking the trees, a process called kagohegi in Japanese. Hegi means ‘bark’ or ‘peel’ in English, and is a kind of local dialect. The craftsman removes the bark to expose the white tree bark inside and they cook it with alkali water for an hour. After that, put the kouzo in cold water to eliminate any remaining lye and soil. This stage of the process is called midashi in Japanese. After that, they smash the wood into pulp, similar to the way of making rice cakes from steamed rice. It is called dakai in Japanese. After dakai, the wood has now become a pulp of small fibers. They then mix the pulp with water and glue, then start creating sheets by pasting the pulp on a special wood board with a brush. This final stage is called kamitsuke in Japanese. Thus, kurotaniwashi is made by drying with natural air.

The countryside region of Kyoto Tango is very famous for a long time, because there are very suit for growing good kozo (paper mulberry) that is the main material. In addition, there are Kurotani river that has very clear water. Therefore, the water of Kurotani river is perfect for making Kurotaniwashi. People who are papermaker use only natural materials. However, people who know about the way of making Kurotaniwashi and are able to make Kurotaniwashi is decreasing, so we have to protect the way of making Kurotaniwashi that is one of the Japanese traditional.



Kurotaniwashi Souvenirs

In Kyoto there are many traditional products sold as souvenirs, some of which are made with kurotaniwashi. For example, you can buy something simple, like just kurotaniwashi paper for 600-800 yen. Other products made with kurotaniwashi are letter paper, post cards, envelops, notebooks, book covers, cushion covers, and so on. These products have a traditional texture, so they are very tough. Therefore, they are capable of long term use. They become charm of kurotaniwashi. even they become too old.

Kurotaniwashi Shops

Kyoto Washi Koubou

Kyoto Washi Koubou is a store with some souvenirs made with kurotaniwashi. You can buy online. At the site, you can learn more detail about the history of kurotaniwashi, as well as buy some traditional products online. In addition, you can make your own kurotaniwashi by designing their color or pattern.

TEL: 0773-42-9810


Kurotaniwashi Kaikann

The “Kurotaniwashi Kaikann” is a store and studio of kurotaniwashi. It is not open Saturday and Sunday. You can buy kurotaniwashi souvenir at the store. If you reserve on the Internet before the day you go to the store, you can try making kurotaniwshi.

TEL: 0773−44−0213

Time: 9:00~16:30

E-mail: kyoto.ayabe@kurotaniwashi.jp

Making Kurotaniwashi



The paper craft that was born in Kurotani village is called kurotaniwashi, and it is the famous paper art of Kyoto. It is said that it is the most beautiful and oldest paper craft in Japan. Kurotaniwashi has a very long history from 800 years ago, and it is made by the special skill of craftsman using natural ingredients, such as the pristine Kurotani river water. You can not only buy kurotaniwashi, but also make it on your own in Kyoto. It will be a nice souvenir and may become a special memory of you in Kyoto. Why don’t you try it?


by Momoko Sonoda and Haruna Sugimto




Kyo-chiyogami is a colorful paper that is made with washi, or traditional Japanese handmade paper. It is a very fine example of a traditional Kyoto-style handicraft. It is also quite popular as a souvenir for tourists. The beautiful design is very attractive. Kyo-chiyogami can convey a quality of Kyoto through its color and design. When we see kyo-chiyogami, we can feel warm and happy.

History of Kyo-chiyogami

Kyo-chiyogami has 1,700 year history in Kyoto. When the first kyo-chiyogami was made, it was used only by the emperor of Japan, which he used for official documents. It was made not of washi, however. Instead it was made of hoshoshi, which is a kind of fine quality, thick, white Japanese paper. This type of kyo-chiyogami was expensive and of very high-quality. Eventually, kyo-chiyogami became common in the Edo era, so that all people could buy and use it. This is because kyo-chiyogami began to be made with washi, which was much cheaper than hoshoshi. Moreover, washi was easy to get, so people could get it for reasonable price. Kyo-chiyogami was designed with big patterns many years ago in the Edo era. This was due to the accumulation of techniques for woodblock printing. Now however, there are more than 1,000 kinds of different designs for kyo-chiyogami.

How to Make Kyo-Chiyogami

Washi is made using fibers from the bark of the gambi tree, the mitsumata plant, the mulberry, and various other sources of fiber, such as bamboo, rice, hemp, etc. All of these main basic ingredients can be found in Japanese mountains and countryside. After the washi has been made, then it is bleached. This is done with hot water and paste. Next, washi is dyed in various ways to create the base color. Finally, washi is naturally seasoned and patterned. The whole process takes about a day to complete. In old times, kyo-chiyogami was made with wood-block prints, but now it is made mostly by machines.

The Maruyama Coating Company is one of the more famous kyo-chiyogami manufacturers. The company is located in Nantan City of Kyoto Prefecture. They have all original designs and color. Moreover, they always make the paper by hand. Furthermore, production is entirely domestic, so they do not rely on materials from foreign countries.

Uses of Kyo-Chiyogami

There are various ways to use kyo-chiyogami. For example, people made dolls and fans with kyo-chiyogami in the old times. It looked a lot like what we now know as origami, or Japanese paper folding art. Origami was popular from the Edo Period, and many of those themes from the Edo period still exists. For example, men wore special helmets during that time, so people were often making origami helmets. There was even origami class at school from the Meiji period. Recently however, people are creating much different things with origami, like small boxes and cards.

Kyo-chiyogami is also used in Japanese arts, outside of origami. First, children like to use kyo-chiyogami to create or decorate things because of its classic Kyoto-style patterns. Many children use kyo-chiyogami for their summer vacation craft-work. Second, people use kyo-chiyogami as wrapping paper for gifts. If people wrap their presents with kyo-chiyogami, it will have a distinct and splendid Kyoto feel to it. Third, people decorate their rooms with kyo-chiyogami. This allows them to both appreciate and enjoy kyo-chiyogami in their rooms. It especially matches a Japanese style room. Some hotels in Kyoto decorate their rooms with kyo-chiyogami.

Paper Cranes - Orizuru (折鶴 - using Kyochiyogami

Paper Cranes – Orizuru (折鶴 – using Kyochiyogami


As you can see, kyo-chiyogami is popular among people of all ages and has many methods of use. For this reason, kyo-chiyogami has many charms.

Yamamoto Fumido

There are many shops selling kyo-chiyogami in Kyoto. One of the most popular shops is called Yamamoto Fumido, which was founded in 1872 in the Nakagyo ward of Kyoto City. It follows the traditions of Kyoto-style stores. For example, there is a big showroom in Yamamoto Fumido, where many types of kyo-chiyogami and small crafts made from kyo-chiyogami are on display and for sale. The kyo-chiyogami for sale there is of very high quality, so many people greatly admire the shop. There are so many designs there, which is one of the main selling points of their paper. For example, kousai is a vast array of color, containing many beautiful flowers. Aizome is a bright blue color, and contains castles drawn on it. Wazome, on the other hand, contains patterns of old fashioned toys. This is most popular with children. And all of these kyo-chiyogami are handmade. There are also many types of folding fans made with kyo-chiyogami for sale. For example, the kazari fan is red and has golden cranes and white crane on it. It is a luxurious folding fan.

How to Get There

The best way to experience the beauty and elegance of colorful kyo-chiyogami is to visit Yamamoto Fumido. The address is 612-1 Daimonji-cho Tominokoji-dori Shijyo-noboru Nakagyo ward of Kyoto City.  It is near the subway of Karasuma-oike station. The shop open at 10:00 am~16:30 pm and closed Sunday, Wednesday and public holiday.