Kamikoya, Ichi-go, ichi-e! (Papermaking Part Two)

The prospect of a solo exhibition in May completely changed the focus of my art making from a research mode to a production mode. I knew that I wanted to show work using paper and that I was considering presenting one of my poems translated into Japanese and cast in paper.

In early March, I went to Hanno, a small town approximately one hour north west of Tokyo to visit the paper making studio of sculptor, Yanai Tsuguo. http://www.yaezakidokudami.com/yanai.html  Realizing that it was going to be difficult to find cotton fibres, my customary fibre of choice for casting and after talking with Yanai-san, I decided that I would try using kozo – a fibre that he uses extensively, and one that I have used a lot for sheet forming but never considered it suitable for casting. I had prepared styrofoam moulds of letters to take with me to Kamikoya for testing. Rogier gave me some kozo and mitsumata; we filled some of the letter moulds and set them out to dry in the sun. Overnight with light ventilation, they were ready the next morning for the next phase of experimenting – konyaku! Kamikoyapaper21

Moulds with kozo and mitsumata drying

Moulds with kozo and mitsumata drying




One very good piece of advice which I had never considered in all my years of casting, was that it is better to not remove all the water when hand-pressing the fibres into the moulds. It is the presence of the water that keeps the fibres open and ready to cling to other fibres. So, to prevent separation, wait until the mould is completely full before the final pressing.

I first heard of konyaku when studying shifu with Emiko. (see earlier posts) She described it as a starchy vegetable not unlike the potato, that is commonly eaten in Japan and the powder when mixed with water and cooked, can be applied to paper to make it strong and waterproof. The ceremonial kimonos worn by the monks are made of paper that has been treated with konyaku – making a cloth called, kamiko.  In WWII, factories in Osaka were making hot-air balloons covered with konyaku to transport and drop bombs on the US. Konyaku is also eaten for its nutritive, curative and cleansing properties – it is almost without calories.

Preparing the konyaku, (finding it may be the biggest challenge- can be purchased here in Japan at local konyaku factories) In a cooking pot, dissolve 2 gm. konyaku powder in 180 gm. water stir and bring to a boil. Let cool and put through a sieve. I rubbed it onto my letters using my hands while still warm, but can be applied hot or cold and with a brush. For increased water-proofing, drop the object or sheet of paper with the konyaku applied to both sides and dried into a boiling bath of alkali solution, such as lime water or washing soda of approximately 10 ph. To make paper known as  momigami, from the Japanese verb – to soften by rubbing before using  (see Donald Farnsworth’s book, Momigami) crumple the sheet into a ball before putting it into the alkali bath. Let this cook at a low boil for approximately 3 minutes. Remove object and rinse well (use gloves) under running water. Open ball of paper and hang to dry. Lovely! Persimmon juice can also be applied to paper to make a very good water-proofed surface. It will also dye it a rich reddish ochre colour. Fishermen use it to water-proof their fishing lines.


I also made several sheets of paper using pulp-painting techniques. A thin layer of pulp is allowed to settle in the su…using a small ladle, I dripped, poured, played with various pulps, some coloured with clay, some with and without neri. To make the light-fast colours, Rogier collects different tints of clay from the mountain. The clay is cooked to kill and bacterial or plant content and mixed directly with the fibres. With our without neri, makes different colour textures. I made nice light gray and rich orangey ochre patterns on kozo.