For those of us who enjoy Japanese handmade paper or washi, time in the following stores are an absolute delight.
Beautiful paper is one of the glories of Japanese craftsmanship. It also makes one of the best presents to take home: it is light in weight and difficult to break, and even a sheet of the finest hand-decorated paper will not even come near the price of, for example, a lacquer box of similar quality.
Most Japanese papers utilize bast fibers, the inner surface of the bark of woody plants.
The fibers most commonly used for paper making in Japan – kozo, ganpi and mitsumata – are carefully freed from nonfibrous impurities by soaking, scraping and repeated washings, and boiling with ash lye. In the drying process, the sun bleaches and further purifies the paper. All of the care taken in the production of washi, resulting in pure and pH-neutral (meaning, like pure distilled water, neither acid nor alkaline) paper, makes it valuable not only to the calligrapher, ink painter and wood-block printer but also to, among others, restorers of paintings and lacquered objects.
Washi is a style of paper that was first made in Japan. Washi is commonly made using fibers from the bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia chrysantha), or the paper mulberry, but also can be made using bamboo, hemp, rice, and wheat. The word “washi” comes from wa ‘Japanese’ and shi ‘paper’, and the term is used to describe paper made by hand in the traditional manner. Washi is one of UNESCO’s Intangible cultural heritage objects.
If you aren’t familiar with washi, this place will be a revelation to you. You simply won’t believe the variety of paper and paper goods on offer here, with everything from rough “country-style” paper to intricately-patterned paper that is literally suitable for framing. You can spend hours here browsing the offerings here. They deal exclusively in handmade paper.
Ko Kado, a modern-day master of all things paper. Kado, 41, is the creative force behind Kyoto’s Kamisoe, a small shop and atelier that specializes in karakami, a traditional technique of decorative paper making using woodblock prints.
His creations stand out for their new-meets-old aesthetic – a legacy of his background as a graphic designer fused with five years of intense training at a centuries-old karakami studio. Kado reckons he is one of only 10 or so masters of the technique in Japan, half of whom are based in Kyoto. He’s also arguably the most modern in his approach.
“Traditionally, karakami artisans use inherited woodblock prints with old patterns,” he says. “But I design completely new patterns. I also work with graphic artists, architects and fashion designers.” Housed in a 90-year-old former barber shop in Kyoto’s Nishijin district – an area famed for its weaving heritage – Kamisoe comprises a small ground-floor shop (complete with the original barbershop sink) and first-floor studio. Here, Kado collaborates with craftspeople and clients to produce an eclectic range of paper creations – designing patterns, dyeing paper by brush and then printing patterns using woodblocks. “I love making the ink, printing by hand, feeling the paper, testing the humidity,” he says. “My body is like a printing machine.”
Hours: 12-6pm, closed Mondays.
Kamiji Kakimoto is a Japanese paper store that dates back to the late Edo period (1600-1868), and is located on the quaint Teramachi Street near the Kyoto City Hall. They offer Japanese kizuki-gami (paper made only from the bark of trees), yuzen paper (traditional unique handmade paper) and many other kinds of paper. It also carries some truly unique goods, like handmade Japanese printer paper.
In the central area of Kyoto, in Shijo Karasuma, there’s a big shopping mall called Cocon Karasuma. On the left-hand side of the ground floor there is a shop called ‘Kira Karacho’. This business has been operating since 1624.
Karacho is the place to visit if you want to discover the art of Karakami (woodblock printed paper). Karacho boasts a collection of 650 hand carved woodblocks, most of them more than 200 years old. These woodblocks are still being used today to print the most beautiful patterned papers that are mostly used in Japan for creating feature interior walls and doors.
Kara paper or Karakami is a traditional Japanese handicraft, which is mostly used for sliding doors and screens. Even today, the sliding doors in the famous Katsura Imperial Villa and Nijo Castle are always repaired with Karakami, but for most sliding doors now it seems like the demand for Karakami is going to decrease.
This is a Kyoto-made paper item shop that has gained immense popularity due to the fact that each item is made one-by-one with care rather than in huge batches. Since you can order wedding invitations there as well, people who want to send beautiful Kyoto-style invitations should stop by. Their products are known for their colorful designs stamped with gold/silver leaf. The technique is called “hakuoshi” and a hot press stamps the paper using heavy pressure to make it permanent. It shines beautifully and creates a gorgeous, high-quality item.
There are postcards, letter stationery, envelopes, and more created by exclusive designers.
Originally, Kyukyodo was opened as a pharmacy in front of Honno-ji Temple on Teramachi Street in 1663. Today they are favored by people of all ages as a specialty shop offering incense and Japanese stationery. One of the most popular items is cute, large and small envelopes using traditional Japanese washi paper. A wide range of designs and forms will appeal to everyone’s taste. Especially, the small envelopes feature a variety of Japanese motifs, from traditional patterns to modern drawings of flowers, animals and seasonal elements.
Shogado earned the Kyoto Design Award for its stationery that mixes modern illustrations with Japanese design to create a new style. The recommended products are the wahon and the goshuin-chou. The wahon is a notebook that has Japanese designs on the cover, and is very good to use as a travel diary or a notepad. If you use it as a travel diary, you’re sure to make good memories. The goshuin-chou is a particular kind of notebook called a goshuin that you bring to temples and shrines and have the monks stamp it as a sign of your visit.
Bijutsu Hagaki Gallery Kyoto Benrido
They recreate works of art as postcards after obtaining permission from various art galleries and museums. Inside, one wall is completely covered in beautiful postcards to make a breathtaking sight. There are postcards with Japanese patterns as well as postcards featuring famous Japanese art pieces; the total variety of postcards on offer is more than 1000. They’re all so lovely you’ll feel like you’re in a tiny art gallery.
There are postcards that feature Kyoto’s name on them, so you can buy them as a souvenir of your trip. They also have beautiful stationery, clear files, business card holders, card cases, and more. This is one store you can’t miss on your trip.
This former tea ceremony house now offers items to put down your thoughts, to yourself or for others. They have postcard, memo, letter paper and envelopes. As for its name, Uragu, ‘it once meant ‘happy’.
They have a lot of stationery for letter-writing as well as a lot of Japanese-style accessories that are a little out of the ordinary. They carry items that use Japanese designs and patterns beautifully that are also fun to use. Among those items the most recommended is the Kotomori message card and the Mamemo note pads.
The Kotomori is a message card set where the envelope is shaped like a traditional Japanese omamori, the charms that you can buy from shrines. There are many ways to use it, like writing a wish on it, or writing a message on it and giving it to someone with a gift.
The Mameno note pad is a small pad printed with Japanese patterns. Since you can remove them one-by-one, you can also use them as a message card. There are many patterns, such as an elephant carrying a tower, that are Japanese-style but slightly out of the ordinary.
This store specializes in paper crafts. Lamps, toys and jewelery boxes are just some of the things you can find here, all made from paper. You can even take part in one of their workshops to create your own paper lantern or box, choosing from a range of Showa-period paper designs.
Address: 409 Izutsuya-cho, Yanaginobanba-dori Rokkaku-sagaru, Chukyo-ku, Kyoto
Telephone: 075-231-5003 Hours: 10am-6pm
This shop specialises in traditional Japanese kaishi paper. Once used as an everyday item, kaishi are now only used for special occasions like Japanese tea ceremonies. Their cat-shaped notepaper makes an excellent gift.
Address: 271 Shijohorikawacho Shijokudaru Horikawadori Shimogyo-ku Kyoto
Telephone: 075-841-0765 Hours: 11am-6pm, closed Sundays
Mine at (Kawaramachi Sanjo-agaru Nishi-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; telephone 231-1017. Open noon to 9, closed Tuesday).
For those especially interested in traditional washi making, this article is interesting: