Chiyogami is the Japanese name of the lustrous paper you see in the photos here. Here it is written in Japanese – 千代紙 . The character at the end 紙 means paper and pronounced ‘kami’ in Japanese.
The Japanese paper more familiar to us is of course origami – 折り紙 . That tends to be a lot cheaper, but it was the pricier, gold-embellished variety that I took to. I first discovered it while living in Japan for 18 months and it features in much of my recent work.
Chiyogami paper, also known as yuzen, was developed in the Edo period in Japan by skilled craftsmen. The vibrant patterns are silk-screened and if they remind you of kimono fabric that’s because that was the inspiration for the colourful surface designs. That’s why in traditional designs you’ll spot typically Japanese themes: cherry blossom and autumn leaves, for instance. The picture you see above was a pricier piece, but there are now cheaper alternatives.
Real chiyogami feels like fabric – tear a small piece and you’ll see fibres. It’s easy to imagine it as a primary source of inspiration for fashion and interior designers. Can you picture a kimono made with the pattern below together with a red and gold obi (sash)? Yes please!
In this stationery shop in Kokura, Japan (pictured below), upstairs is/was totally given over to racks of colour and gold (I say was because it may no longer be open). When I asked the gentleman working at the shop he explained that chiyogami finds its way into cards, place mats, lampshade and book covers.
You may find a complete picture on a sheet measuring roughly 100 x 65cm, mountain or sea scenes, ready to frame. Even small pieces of furniture can get a chiyogami treatment.
Not in Japan? Never fear, here are some other places you can find chiyogami:
Of course! If you’re lucky enough to be on vacation or a working holiday in Japan itself then here are a few places I found on my travels. My Japanese reading skills are zilch, but Google Maps is my friend so I can at least point you in a vaguely right direction:
I posted a bit about my work here the other day. I add random strips of chiyogami torn from larger sheets or cut out rings and circles to collage onto my brightly-coloured abstracts. It seems a bit of a sacrilege to rip this precious paper up and only buy it for this reason. Additionally, I cut out frames with my metal ruler and cutting board to edge cards and larger artworks.
Do you know any other places to buy Japanese paper? Drop me a line in the comments below.
THIS IS AN UPDATED POST FROM JANUARY 2017.