Japan Paper Museum

by Stefan Chiarantano, Mar 23, 2007 | Destinations: Japan

The Japanese Paper Museum is located in a lovely park near Oji station. It traces the history of paper making from its origins to the present. Getting there was half the fun. I took a rail car, which is in walking distance from Minowa Station on the Hibiya line. The rail car (toden) lets you off at Oji station and from there it's a 10 minute walk to the museum. It was standing room only on the tram as the limited seats are reserved for the elderly.

The museum is very new and it has a "je ne sais quoi" quality about it. And English speaking visitors are provided with English pamphlets, which allows one to take in and enjoy the exhibits. La piece de resistance as they say in French is having the opportunity to look at the world's largest woodblock print.

Here's the description:
The largest woodblock printing in the world
(An image of Kujyaku myoo-peacock, God of wisdom)

The Japanese woodblock printing technique of "ukiyoe" which was developed in the Edo period declined in the Meiji period but survived as an elaborate reproduction method of old prints. In order to introduce the high level of woodblock printing technique of Japan, Toshimo Mitsumura, founder of Mitsumura Printing Co, exhibited "An image of Kujyaku myoo" at the St. Louis International Exposition and was awarded an honorary gold cup. The woodblock printing displayed here was restored in 1990 after eight months work, using the original woodblocks. The original is a Buddhist print of the Sung dynasty (AD 960 - 1279) of China and is in the possession of the Ninna temple (Kyoto) and is designated a national treasure. Both sides of 22 pieces of woodblocks made from cherry wood were used and printed 1303 times. The process served to demonstrate the best use of washi. The Kozo paper was specially made by Iwano Paper Mill located in Imadetecho, Fukui prefecture. It was designed to endure prints more than a thousand times and for this, two sheets were molded together to create a thickness of 0.3 millimeters. One sheet is peeled off when prints are mounted. Also, it was dyed in old colors to bring out resemblance of the original print. Also dosa was brushed onto the paper to prevent expansion and contraction of the paper and blurring of the pigment.

The God of wisdom is seated on peacock, which has its elaborate feathers spread out. Two of the his six hands are held in gassho. He has 3 faces. It's very beautiful and so unusual.

Another item that caught my eye was the
"Million Pagodas and Dharanis (Buddhist charms which are one of the world's first printed papers)"

Here's the description from the plaque:

In 764 AD after the rebellion of Fujiwara Nakamaro was suppressed, for the sake of the peace of the country, a million 3-storied miniature wooden pagodas were made by order of Empress Shoutoku. In 770, they were dedicated to ten major temples including Houryu and Kofuku temples. Dharanis (Buddhist charms) were placed inside the pagodas and are now regarded to be one of the oldest printed matter which the year of printing is bibliographically established. The paper used is made from hemp and Kozo material and regarding the method of printing, there are two shools, one asserting wood block and the other, copper plate. At present, a part of 1 million pagodas and dharanis remaining in Horyu Temple are designated national important cultural properties.

Papermaking got its start in Japan during the Nara period when the famous Prince Shotuku began promulgating the spread of Buddhism. As the copying of sutras became popular, the demand for paper increased. On exhibit are segments of sutras from different periods. They include:

Ancient Buddhist Scripture
(Nanbokucho period 1336 - 1392)

Ancient Buddhist Scripture
(Kamakura period, 1281)

Ancient Buddhist Scripture
(Early Heian period, 810 - 823)

Ancient Buddhist Scripture
(later Heian period, 1000 - 1191)

On display is a letter from the 8th Shogun Yoshimune (Edo period 1725 - 1745), chirimen paper for ornamenting the hair (age unknown), paper toys ("change a wig", Edo period, 1861), and old story books (Edo period, 1850 and 1853). There are also many samples of paper, and many beautiful ukiyoe prints. Galleries 3 and 2 are devoted to the paper making process.

The museum has a gift shop selling Japanese paper, cards and many objects made from paper, which much to my surprise are reasonably priced. Also, the museum next door features a small cafe where one can grab a bite to eat.

If you have an interest in paper, do give it a visit. You won't be disappointed!