Brief History of Chiyogami (Yuzen) Paper

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Chiyogami & Yuzen Defined

The word “Chiyogami” is a very specific word, however nobody is exactly sure of the derivation of the word. One popular belief that is means 1,000 generations but that hasn’t really been documented too clearly. The paper that we know as chiyogami actually comes from a blending of two Japanese traditions: woodblock-printed Japanese papers (“chiyogami”), and a specific style of kimono fabric patterns (“Yuzen”). The word “Yuzen” originally referred to a style of highly elaborate designs, incorporating a lot of gold, which were printed onto cloth for kimonos.

So Which Is It, Chiyogami or Yuzen?

Part of the confusion about whether these papers are called Yuzen (as they are commonly known in the USA) or Chiyogami comes from this blended history. Really, today’s papers are both. We prefer to call our paper Chiyogami because it’s the term that refers traditionally and specifically to paper.

In Japan “Chiyo” means 1,000 Generations & “-Gami” means paper.

The Rise Of Chiyogami Paper-Making

Chiyogami patterns were inspired from Kimono patterns and first made by Japanese Paper-Makers in the Edo Period. In the 20th century, after World War II, women stopped wearing Kimonos, and with this drastic decline in demand for kimonos, the old cloth printing studios with little to do began applying their patterns to paper. Originally printed by woodblock and used to make paper dolls and other home decorations, Chiyogami is still silkscreened by hand using a mixture of kozo and sulphite. These patterns blended with the existing woodblock-printed Chiyogami tradition to create a newer, wider range of paper patterns that now also included gold. Over time, the more efficient silkscreen technique imported from the West replaced woodblock production. Today there are sample books that have probably 10,000 Chiyogami pattern designs to choose from; They’re just unbelievable numbers.

Traditional Japanese Designs

Known for beautiful, vibrant and striking colors, many of today’s Chiyogami patterns are based on traditional Japanese designs with symbols that represent beauty, good fortune and long life. These patterns include flowers, trees, animals and geometric shapes. Flowering plum trees, pine leaves, clover, bamboo, violets, butterflies, stripes and parasol shapes are among the traditional designs that are still very popular today.

What To Make With Chiyogami

Chiyogami can be used for a wide variety of art and craft projects. It is a favorite choice for Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. Cranes, boats and many other shapes and objects are exquisitely beautiful when made with Chiyogami. Japanese paper has inspired many wedding invitation designs and used to line envelopes. Today we see book covers, greeting cards, scrapbook pages, collages, picture mats and lampshades all made with Chiyogami. Due to its strength and durability Chiyogami is ideal for covering all kinds of common household objects, such as picture frames, boxes, tins and light switch covers.

Is All Chiyogami Silk-Screened By Hand?

Yes, all the Chiyogami Paper that we carry is still silk-screened by hand. It’s a laborious process, with each pattern requiring a separate screen that needs to be hand-registered for each color layer. Just imagine: for the plum blossom pattern we call Floral Pattern Sky Blue, each sheet needs to be registered and a color layer applied – and then left to dry – six times.”

Work Conditions Of Japanese Paper Makers

The Chiyogami Papers we carry and sell are not made in sweatshop conditions in the Third World somewhere. They all come from known Japanese studios – that are small, family-run Japanese businesses we are proud to support.

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