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 Yu Sakamoto, Kazu Shibao, and Taishi Nishikawa

Japanese Umbrella

Japanese Umbrella

Which item do you think every person definitely has at least one of? Although it could be several different things, the umbrella is certainly one of them. Did you know that Japan has its own original umbrella? It is called the wagasa. When you walk around Kyoto, you might encounter a woman wearing a kimono. She often is also carrying a wagasa, which can be of an even more vivid color in the sunshine. This is a necessary part of traditional Kyoto life and culture. However, the wagasa has dramatically decreased in production. This is because the western umbrella is cheaper and more convenient for modern Japanese people. Nevertheless, Kyoto actually has its own original umbrella: the kyo-wagasa.

Kyoto has been at the cultural center of Japan for more than 1,000 years. The wagasa has been around for almost as long. It is said that the Kyo-wagasa features the ancient aesthetics of Kyoto. Nobody knows when it was created exactly, but it is said that it’s production and use expanded in Edo period (1603~1867). One of the salient features of kyo-wagasa is the kind of paper used to make it. There are three kinds.

Gokayama-washi from Toyama prefecture. The traditional skills to make gokayama-washi have been protected throughout the centuries. Although there were more than one thousand five hundred factories, there are only three factories now. It is thinner than any others. But it is very strong and used for making Shoji (paper sliding door).

Minou-washi from Gifu prefecture. This type of paper has been around for more than one thousand three hundred years. It is used in many different situations, like for the recording sheet. Unlike other types of paper, it does not turn yellow after 100 years or more.

Echizen-washi of Fukui prefecture. The traditional skills to make this paper have also been protected. And many of them are handmade. It is made from three kind of natural materials. Then this paper is used to make things used in daily life. For example, echizen-housoushi, which is wrapping paper upon which Japanese designs are drawn, postcards, business cards, and more.

There are two main types of Kyo-wagasa. One is for a rainy days. It has a water-resistant finish, either by using linseed oil (traditional) or with the use of modern chemicals. The other one is just for show or indoor use. In this case, there is no water repellent finish. It continues to develop and evolve. Recently, a new kinds of Kyo-wagasa have appeared, for example, an illumination design, a mini Kyo-wagasa for appreciation, and an architect interior design, and more.

The Structure of the Japanese Umbrella

The structure of the Wagasa is made to be much more delicate than the Western umbrella. There have many kind of Japanese umbrellas in Japan. Even Japanese craftsman who make typical Japanese umbrellas, do not know how to make a traditional kyo-wagasa. The main materials of the Japanese umbrella are bamboo (harvested in October and November), the wood of ego (Japanese tree) string, washi (Japanese paper), oil paint of cashew (oil of cashew nuts shell), silk and so on. All of these materials put together become a Japanese umbrella by a lot of craftsman. The Japanese umbrella takes a few months to create. There are many delicate and complicated processes to make a Japanese umbrella. In fact, there are over 100 processes involved in its production. The most important process is shaving bone, Hari (paste), and finishing. This article will introduce the important processes.

Shaving Bone

Japanese umbrellas should look like bamboo growing in the nature. Paper and string should be perfectly aligned to pass between the bones. The craftsman must mark the bamboo perfectly, and then shave it to make many sticks. After that he must collect all the sticks and repair it to one stick.

Hari (paste)

Hari does not only paste the paper in the umbrella. This paper needs to be compact, because head of the Japanese umbrella is thin. At this point, the craftsman should not wrinkle the paper as much as possible and he must calculate everything to make beautiful circle when people open the Japanese umbrella. Umbrellas damaged by rain can ruin the motion of open and close. Therefore Japanese umbrellas need to protected from such damage by water. This process is so difficult. Therefore professional skill is required.


The finishing person paints the wax on the paper of umbrella and dries the Japanese umbrella under the sun. At this point, if the wax is too much, the papers will stick to each other and then the umbrella cannot open. However if the amount of wax is too little, the paper will be broken by the rain. After a few days, the craftsman paints a cashew at the top of the bone. The finishing person will paint a cashew quickly and exactly only on the top of the bones. This part is pure art.

Structure of wages

Structure of wages

In Kyoto, you can buy a wagasa at many places. However, there is only one shop that makes proper traditional wagasa in Kyoto.  We can see the wagasa quite well in Arashiyama, Teramachi or Kawaramachi, but the wagasa which they are selling is mostly just the umbrella with wagasa design. Therefore the price is much cheaper and the weight is lighter, so it is easy to get one. That should be reason why those are very popular. The cheap wagasa made by washi is not waterproof, so it’s not available on a rainy day. It doesn’t matter If you only use as a parasol or you want to hold it when you wear the kimono, but if you want to use it during any weather, I don’t recommend it.

As I first said, in Kyoto there is only one shop that makes proper traditional Kyo-wagasa. The name of that shop is Hiyoshiya. Hiyoshiya was first established about 150 years ago, around Gojo Honkaku temple in the late Edo period. After that, it moved to Kamigyoku Touzai town; the second generation Yozo Jiro had a wagasa shop in front of the Houkyo temple. Later, the third generation was Isaburo, and the fourth generation was Emiko. So for hundreds of years, they have been making a Wagasa. When Queen Elizabeth II and princess Diana came to Japan, the wagasa made in Hiyoshiya was used at a special tea ceremony. In this way, Wagasa has been used as a means of brightening the traditional performing arts, such as tea ceremony, Noh, and Kabuki, all of which are indispensable for Japanese culture. With the changing times, the production and use of wagasa is probably going to decrease little by little, but for transmitting traditional Japanese culture, I hope that wagasa will become to the one of the ways foreigners can get interested in Japan.

Chochin: Traditional Japanese Paper Lanterns

by Narumi Kitagawa and Akane Kitakido

If you walk down a Kyoto street at night, you will almost certainly see some paper lanterns hanging in front of an Izakaya which is Japanese-style bar or ramen restaurant. And at festivals in Japan, you will also see a lot of lanterns hanging in a row. These are all traditional Japanese lanterns, also called chouchin. ‘Chou’ means to hang, and ‘chin’ stands for a light. Originally chouchin were used to shine light at people’s feet when they walked on dark street at night. Now, chouchin are used in not only this way, but also other ways. In this article, we will explore the history and cultural significance of chouchin.

History of Couchin

Looking at the history of Japanese paper lanterns allows us to rediscover how the Japanese way of life has changed. The first appearance of paper lanterns was during the Muromachi era (from 1336 to 1573). At that time, paper lanterns came from China and looked like baskets made with bamboos. They were quite different from today’s Japanese lanterns, so clearly people were trying to develop the lanterns in Japanese ways over the years. After a few decades, original folding lanterns based on the Chinese design were created. These folding lanterns were used in funerals. The new lanterns also became necessary for soldiers to use during war, so they became more and more popular in Edo period (from 1603 to 1868). Due to such development, not only people of high rank in society, but also normal everyday people were able to use Japanese paper lanterns easily in their daily lives. Also, more and more people were able to travel around Japan and go out at night because of the expanding merchant economy. The lanterns helped guide their way and suit their new lifestyle.

How to Make a Japanese Paper Lantern

Paper lanterns are actually quite easy to make. A thin strip of bamboo is used as a framework of body. A circle is then made with the bamboo strip, and on which is attached washi, or Japanese handmade paper. The bamboo circles are set to a model and connected with thread. This work affects whether the paper lantern will be a good one or not, so it needs a skilled hand to do well. After this, glue is put on the bamboo frame and it is all washi. After drying, the bamboo frame is removed from the model. Originally, a candle was placed inside to provide light. Thanks to the protection of the washi cover, the candles seldom went out. But these days, electric lights are used in most paper lanterns.

How Chouchin Are Used Today

Nowadays, Japanese paper lanterns are used in many ways and in many places. The most traditional use is when families hang them outside of their homes during Obon, a special time of the year during the first few weeks of August. These lanterns are called bon chochin, and it is believed that they welcome home the spirits of each family’s ancestors.

The most popular chochin these days are the ones that decorate restaurants and festivals. The lanterns outside restaurants can attract much more attention for passengers than other signs because of the attractive effect of one bright lantern at night. In festivals, we often see chochin hanging in a line over our heads, and that creates a traditional and festive atmosphere. Moreover, some people use Japanese lanterns as a fashionable lamp in their homes. As you can see, Japanese paper lanterns are loved by all generations and are used in various ways.


Kojima Paper Lantern Shop

One of the best places that you can get your very own chochin is Kojima-shoten, a well known paper lantern shop in Kyoto. This shop started to make cochin from the middle of the Edo period. The 9th successive owner is currently running this shop. Recently, Kojima-shoten was featured on television, and they are promoting their products and skills widely.

The most attractive point is that craftsmen in Kojima-shoten create paper lanterns in in the traditional way: by hand. It takes much more time to make them one by one than mass-produced versions made in factories. Craftsmen cut the bamboo thin and wind it around with a stick of bamboo to design the distinctive shape of the lanterns. This way of creating the lanterns is called the ‘Jibari style’, and only in Kyoto can we see it. In addition, all the materials of lanterns in Kojima-shoten are of excellent quality, as they are made of bamboo and washi, all natural, plant-based materials. In contrast, most other shops create lanterns with plastic in order to sell them cheaply.

Even better, at Kojima-shoten you can experience making chochin by yourself. The process is simply and enjoyable. You start by watching a video about how to make chochin. After that, the owner will teach you the process in person. You can choose two types of lanterns to make. One is a small chochin lantern, which is popular among students. Another one is a chochin that you can also paint on. Not only adults, but also children can participate. You can also observe artists making chochin on site.

As you can see, it is worth a visit to Kojima-shoten in order to discover the real attraction of Japanese paper lanterns.


To Kojima Paper Lantern Shop, you can use train or bus. You will get there by 5 minutes walk from Tofukuji station of Keihan line or Imagumano bus stop.

Adress:605-0971 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Imagumano Naginomoricho,11


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.