Chiyogami

千代紙

Haibara chiyogami at Japan House London

Chiyogami is washi, Japanese paper, which has been hand-printed with colourful, patterned designs. With its roots in the Heian period (794–1185 CE), when aristocracy began using ornate paper to send poems to friends and lovers, chiyogami was further developed by artists using the woodblock printing technique during the Edo period (1603–1868 CE). The popularity of this decorative washi has endured and it continues to be produced and enjoyed in Japan and beyond.

Washi

Chiyogami is created by applying decoration to washi; originally, this was achieved using the Japanese method of woodblock printing. Strong and durable washi made of long fibres from the barks of kōzo (paper mulberry), mitsumata (paperbush) and ganpi (a group of native Japanese shrubs of the genus Wikstroemia), is particularly suitable for this printing method. The Haibara paper company (founded in 1806) was the first in Edo to specialize in high-quality smooth-textured washi made from ganpi, which was held in high esteem by Edo’s artists, including calligraphers, ukiyo-e painters and woodblock printers.

Patterns

Many rich chiyogami patterns are created with at least four or five separate woodblock colour applications, which is why strong durable washi is preferred. Finely detailed patterns were often inspired by rich textile designs, depicting motifs from nature, akin to those seen on kimono.

Flowers are commonly used in motifs both for their aesthetic beauty and because they often convey seasonal and symbolic meanings. For example, the autumn flower kiku, chrysanthemum, symbolizes longevity; the spring flower sakura, cherry blossom, is a cherished flower in Japan, symbolizing fleeting beauty and renewal.

Shōchikubai

The Shōchikubai pattern is a combination of shō (pine), chiku (bamboo) and bai (plum) – the auspicious trio is closely associated with the New Year celebrations in Japan and its three elements often appear together in Japanese design. Pine is evergreen, even in cold winter, and is a symbol of longevity; bamboo also has evergreen leaves and its strong, straight stems represent vitality and prosperity; plum is the first tree to blossom at the end of winter and symbolizes resilience.

Geometric Patterns

Geometric patterns are well liked for their simple graphic aesthetic. Many of the commonly used, recognizable geometric patterns belong to a set of historic Japanese designs, wagara, from the Heian period (794–1185 CE); for example, shippō, a term that refers to the enamel metalworking technique cloisonné, is a pattern of intersecting circles which form an infinite chain and symbolize a wish for never-ending peace.

Haibara's own signature pattern is a striking geometric design reminiscent of Edo-kiriko, cut glass craft developed in Edo in 1834. Diamond shapes (hishi), geometrically arranged in a chequerboard pattern, represent the leaves of the water caltrop (also hishi), which grows in swamps and bears fruit despite harsh conditions, signifying the virtue of perseverance. This particular print has enjoyed popularity amongst Haibara’s customers since the Meiji period (1868–1912 CE). To this day, chiyogami continues to be printed with a familiar range of designs and themes that have been appreciated in Japan, for their aesthetic and symbolic qualities, for centuries.

Uses for chiyogami

Since the Edo period, chiyogami has been used for decorating tins and boxes, as well as for stationery such as postcards, notebooks, letter sets and envelopes. The durability and strength of chiyogami continue to make it particularly well-suited to a variety of decorative and craft uses today, such as textile arts, bookbinding and origami.

Haibara was the first company to introduce washi and washi products like chiyogami to the outside world, presenting them at World's Fairs in Vienna, Paris, Sydney and Barcelona, in the late 19th century. Its international legacy endures to this day as its washi and washi products continue to be represented in the collections of institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, amongst others.

Haibara washi and chiyogami are on display at Japan House London from 3 December 2020 until mid-April 2021 and Haibara products are available for purchase in The Shop.

Learn more about washi, and how and where it is made, in our Paper Story.

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