The last destination for our washi tour was Kyoto!
Kyoko Ibe, an author and artist widely recognized for her recycled paper installations, hosted us for our stay in Kyoto. Her studio is packed in every corner with washi, which is very fitting for Ibe-san! Last September, Ibe-san’s Washi Tales: The Paper Art of Ibe Kyoko exhibition opened at the LACMA followed by a performance based off of her work. See my previous post about it here.
The following day, we visited Naoharu Usami, the 8th president of Usami Shutokudo. He gave us a new and in detail perception of conservation. Usami-san is a well established conservator and has had many years of restoration experience. His projects range from scriptures, books, mounted scrolls, to even artifacts from the imperial family. On the bottom right corner is an image of prepared Jin Shofu that had been fermenting for 10 years. It has a bit of a repulsive scent, but it wasn’t strong. They use aged Jin Shofu because the documents and artwork they are conserving are very valuable, old, and most likely going to be repaired again in the future. They want to preserve the artwork for many more years to come, so they make it easier for the next conservators. The aged Jin Shofu is weaker in adhesion, thus making it the perfect substance for their work.
He has an elaborate arrangement of various tools which are necessary for each and every step. He is also very enthusiastic when it comes to sharing with us where he purchases the tools. Usami-san also has an extensive keeping of quality handmade brushes from Tokyo in all the different sizes.
Usami-san showed us how he tears larger sheets of handmade washi to fill in the holes and damages made over the decades. He lines up the shape of the hole with the paper he will use to recreate the hole onto the paper, and draws it with a regular No. 2 pencil. He then rips the circle out of the paper carefully, and with tweezers he lines up the torn paper to the hole. He mentioned that he would even be up all night for a couple of days in a row to work on a project. Working at night gives him a sense of peacefulness and quietness that he can’t attain in the morning. Please keep up the great work Usami-san!
Some images of his most recent projects. The scroll was originally horizontal, but a previous conservator cut the image into sections and turned it into a vertical scroll. The image on the scroll is a story about the life of a Japanese monk.
Usami-san brought us to a temple with the most interesting traditional and outdoor restaurant for lunch. We received about 10 round red bowls and after finishing all of the contents we were able to stack them up like the Russian Matryoshka dolls.
We walked under skinny luscious trees on moss lined paths to traditional tea rooms with lowered ceilings, and large halls looking out to gardens of multiple shades of green. We took our shoes off and wore complimentary house slippers and enjoyed the zen view of the garden while taking a break from the heat. The grass, shrubs, and even the moss have a sense of wild growth within them, but it is apparent that there are many workers daily who keep everything under control. We also had a temple dessert, which is the image in the top right corner. It was just the most perfect little snack of grilled mochi that had been topped with ground kinako (soybean flour), and drizzled with a sweet but light white miso paste. Accompanied with cold tea, it was divine!
We also stopped by a Kara Kami studio. Kara Kami is Japanese decorative wood block printed paper. They make custom orders for byobu’s, window’s, shoji screen’s, wall paper, and just about anything that can use paper. They even make postcards with various prints and colors!
Each of their wood block’s are hand carved and designed special for them. To print larger sized paper, they use the same technique as wallpaper. With the sharpest precision, they tile the print with the single carved wood block. Knowing how horrible I am with measuring and perfectly lining up images, my heart was beating out of my chest while they were demonstrating! He worked swiftly and even continued to chat with us while printing, I was very nervous that his image wouldn’t come out lined up and he might’ve blamed us for the distraction, but he was simply amazing at his work. It came out perfect each time, and they hang the papers to air dry.
They were also very nice enough to let us try out a small piece of print! When we arrived they were starting at the first step of boiling and mixing the glue-like ink substance that is used for the printing. We have the pat the ink onto the surface of the wood block carefully, then lay the paper on top and press down evenly so that it prints every detail. In my opinion, this was the hardest task we were asked to do on the washi tour! Thankfully, our papers were small in size so we only had to print once.
Later that night we sent Yuki back to Tokyo, and the next morning it was already time for me to leave Japan! I had a mini adventure getting from Kyoto to Tokyo by bullet train, but after 2 weeks of constant train hopping it eased me into figuring it out on my own. But, of course, I was very sad parting with Japan. It was a bittersweet ending to the perfect washi tour and I had learned a lot about washi, which I am excited to have been able to bring back with me to the states!