Seductive Marvels of Japanese Art– Materials and Techniques of Surimono Prints  

Surimono prints were the focus of the exhibition “The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints” on display at the Chester Beatty Library in the spring-summer 2017. This exhibition of 95 single prints and poetry books from the collection gave us a chance to study in detail the making, techniques and materials of Japanese woodblock prints, especially focusing on the more elaborate Surimono.

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“The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints,” an exhibition at the Chester Beatty Library.

The most lavish of Japanese prints, the quality and refinement of Surimono appealed greatly to Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. He acquired the greater part of his Surimono collection- a collection that is considered one of finest in the world- between 1954 and 1963, having already moved his Library to Dublin.


CBL J 2078, Writing Table, by Gakutei.

The word Surimono means simply ‘printed thing’. Prepared as gifts for exchange among friends and acquaintances at New Year and on other special occasions, these privately-published prints were products of the flourishing literary culture of Edo Japan. The Surimono commissioned by poetry circles in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries combine short verses composed at poetry gatherings with designs prepared by leading artists. Taking their subjects from the scholar’s desk and the literary canons of Japan and China, Surimono embody the eloquence and amity of these cultivated salons and offer a glittering glimpse into a world rich in playful allusion.

Because of its small audience and private funding, Surimono artists and printers could produce exquisitely refined prints with delicacy and great care. They were usually limited to between 50 and 150 copies.

The basic printing technique used to create Surimono prints was similar to the commercial Ukiyo-e prints although the Surimono prints appear to be much more intricate in design. They exhibit finer and much more elaborate details, more colours, more patterns, more blocks and therefore no expense was spared.

Seductive Marvels of Japanese Art

Details of Surimono prints showing the intricacy of the design.

Japanese woodblock printing is a technique which involves the use of many different blocks of wood to produce one multi-colour print. The wood commonly used for the block is a hard cherry wood which was prepared and planed to achieve a smooth surface. The age of the block and the preparation had a direct impact on the finish achieved in the prints.

The design is first drawn on paper and then pasted face down with a starch paste onto a wooden block so that the design is reversed, ready to be carved and printed the right way up.  The block carver then cuts the design into the block by preserving the raised motif which will be printed.


The initial drawing is adhered to the wood block (left); the wood carver cutting into the wood to created the raised motif (right).

The key block (Omohan) was produced first. It was printed in black and at this point annotated by the artist to describe which colours should be used where. With this decided, the other blocks for the different colours were carved.

Kento is the registration system traditionally used by Japanese printmakers.  It includes two parts, the hikitsuke kento (line stop) and kagi kento (key). Multi-colour woodblock prints require a separate block for each colour, and the kento marks insure the blocks are aligned with precision to print the colours on the paper.

The Kento Registration System.

To prepare for printing, the pigments were mixed with water and sometimes animal glue (nikawa) in ceramic bowls. The block was moistened first and the pigment was applied with a brush onto the surface of the woodblock. There are different type of brushes available depending on the size of the area to be coloured and the desired effects. For example, tonal gradation could be achieved at this stage by using dampened cloth or water brushes to apply the pigment to the block.

The printing paper was dampened before being positioned onto the block using the kento marks. Next the back of the sheet was rubbed over the coloured block using the baren, a circular printing pad. The process of applying the colourants onto the block and rubbing them into the paper with the baren was repeated until the desired colour saturation was obtained.


The printer applying pigment to the block (left); and then applying pressure to paper with the baren to print the design (right).

The paper used for Surimono prints is a kozo paper with strong fibres that tends to be heavier and more absorbent than the paper used for commercial prints. It is believed to be unsized, although a small amount of sizing might have been used to avoid smudging of the colourants in the areas that are printed.

The full sheet of o-bosho paper or “presentation paper” is 39 x 53.5 cm but was not commonly used as a whole. Rather the sheet would have been cut into different sized pieces, following established patterns to obtain different formats. The most common format is Shikishi-ban, an almost square sheet about 21 x 19 cm, which became the standard for Surimono printing and was rarely used for Ukiyo-e prints.


CBL J 2107 Shikishi-ban format.

There are two important differences to note between commercial Ukiyo-e and Surimono which are central to understanding Surimono. The first one is to emphasize Surimono prints as luxury objects with extensive use of precious materials. These include the heavy, unsized paper and the use of mica powder and metal pigments. The prints were also more labour intensive to produce, using more elaborate techniques. Surimono printers used the highest quality and the finest materials available as well as showing off their finest printing skills.

The second major difference is that the poem which accompanied each image was carved into a separate block than the key block, by a wood carver specialising in cutting script. This block would usually display the finest lines and imitate calligraphy perfectly.


Detail of CBL J 2107 showing a variety of effects used to reproduce different fabrics.

The use of metal pigment is common on Surimono prints. However, real gold and silver are rarely found. Instead brass, copper and tin are quite frequently used, sometimes as a background, but quite often to highlight small areas of the design. The metal powder was mixed with large amounts of animal glue (nikawa) and printed on the paper last to avoid transfers of the large metal particles onto the paper during the printing process.





CBL J 2078, Fluidity of the line of text.

Mica (kira) is composed of phyllosilicate minerals. The white luminescent appearance was used to highlight prints. A mixture of glue, usually a gum, and the mica powder was applied to the block and then printed gently with the baren. It was sometimes applied above a coloured ground or mixed with the pigment before printing. Another method is to cut a stencil, place it over the print, and brush the glue directly onto the paper and lightly apply the mica powder onto it and brush any excess off once dry.


CBL J 2313, Use of mica powder to highlight the body of the watch.

Maybe the most striking difference between ukiyo-e prints and Surimono is the extensive use of embossing-a technique which is not commonly used in ukiyo-e. There are a number of ways in which this was achieved.

Blind printing (Karazuri) is a form of printing without the use of any pigment. The technique involves carving a pattern into a woodblock and then printing it in the usual way, but without any pigment. The pressure of the baren on the back of the paper causes part of the paper to be squeezed between the wood and the baren, and flattened. This type of embossing is the most common and the one often used for highlights.

In areas of Surimono where the embossing appears to be coloured, it means that the pigment has been applied before the embossing, multiplying the amount of work necessary.


CBL J 2284, Blind embossing and coloured embossing.

Convex embossing (Kimedashi) was produced by removing a concave area in the block and pressing the piece of paper over it. The paper is pushed down into the carved spaces of the block and moulded into a new shape. This type of embossing was often used for larger areas where the mark of the embossing is visible at the verso and the paper does not remain flat.


CBL J 2102, Convex embossing on the wine flask (left and centre), is especially visible with raking light on the verso of the print (right).

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CBL J 2179, Mount Fuji, by Hokusai

The exhibition and the catalogue were a real dive into a marvelous world of beauty and luxury. Because privately commissioned, cost was no object and this shows in the wealth of techniques and materials that the artist, wood carvers and printers used to produce the Surimono prints. Leading artists such as Hokusai and other prestigious Ukiyo-e artists dedicated large portions of their work producing these refined Surimono prints.

Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator




Conservation through generations


Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour.

Between the 3rd and 5th of May the International Association of Book and Paper Conservators (IADA) hosted their 2017 symposium, ‘From Generation to Generation – Sharing Knowledge, Connecting People,’ at the Oslo Konserthus in Norway, a wonderful modern building in the heart of this capital city.


Elizabeth Randell speaking about her experience as an intern at the Chester Beatty and The Oslo Konserthus.

The conference was aimed at exploring the way knowledge and skills are passed on and shared with younger generations of conservators, looking at various teaching programmes worldwide, social media and academic writing amongst other subjects. The conference also focused on practical work, challenges linked to treatments, and our ability as conservators to reflect as we adapt past techniques and create new practices.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to present a research poster on the use and adaptation of yasha at the Chester Beatty Library. Yasha is a natural dye obtained from the cones of the alder tree, which was first introduced to me by the two wonderful conservators, Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson, at the Restorient Studio, in Leiden in The Netherlands.


Repairs for CBL Heb 751 toned with Yasha (left); harvested yasha cones (right).

In Japanese mounting studios yasha is used to dye the lining papers of both hanging and hand scrolls. The light brown colour obtained from yasha helps to soften the bright white tone of the lining paper and silk so that it is more sympathetic to the delicate tones of historic objects.

Through centuries of practical application, the traditional use of yasha has proven stability and durability which makes it suitable for conservation. Papers dyed with yasha remain pH neutral or slightly alkaline and retain their brightness and colour on ageing.Most plant dyes are light sensitive but yasha is lightfast.2 It continues to be used today for these qualities.
Like many features of the traditional Japanese conservation studio, yasha is now readily available to Western conservators. With a growing interest in adapting conservation techniques imported from East Asia and Japan, the use of alder cones has become a known technique for dyeing paper when working on Japanese or Chinese Art objects. However, its use has rarely been developed outside of this small circle.

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Julia introducing her poster to attendees.

At the conference, the poster session took place on Thursday for over an hour after lunch, when attendees had the opportunity to ask questions about the research presented. I was delighted with the interest the research sparked and feedback I got from different conservators. Some had used the dye previously but were excited to hear about different application techniques, others were keen to be introduced to it and the ways to adapt its use to best suit our practice.

The conference finished with Friday visits organised at various institutions throughout the city, looking at the wonderful conservation work going on in Oslo!

Overall the two day conference was immensely varied and interesting to conservators of all generations who hopefully have learned from each other. The beautiful tributes to the important role of mentoring, teaching and sharing that Christopher Clarkson and Fred Bearman have played in the short history of conservation felt very appropriate with the overall topic of the conference. They will be sadly missed as pioneers and mentors to many.



After the conference I took the opportunity to travel to Bergen. Norway is a stunning country and I was delighted to see some of the beautiful scenery, including these most amazing fjords along the way!



Julia Poirier,  Book and Paper Conservator


1 – Yeh, Brigitte. Munn, Jesse (2003) ‘An Evaluation of Xuan Paper Permanence and Discussion of Historical Chinese Paper Materials’ from ‘Scientific Research on the Pictorial Arts of Asia’. Edited by Paul Jett et al. Proceedings of the Second Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery, Washington DC, USA.

2 – Grantham, Sandra; Webber, Pauline, (2002) ‘Mellow yellow: toning papers with traditional Far Eastern colourants’, The Paper Conservator, Vol.26, pp. 49-57.

Reflections on links between Conservation in Dublin and Tokyo

While preparing for the current exhibition on display in our temporary gallery, The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints (3 March– 27 August 2017), and the supporting gallery rotation in our permanent galleries, I was drawn back to my experience as a participant at the ICCROM Japanese Paper Conservation programme in 2015.

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CBL J 1154 on display in the Arts of the Book gallery

One of the painted handscrolls, Poetry Contest of the Zodiac Animals (Junirui uta awase emaki) CBL J 1154, was selected for display and installed in the permanent galleries to support the current print exhibition which focuses on Japan’s poetry circles. Between 1994 and 1995, the mid-17th century scroll was conserved at the Handa Kyūseidō Studio, Tokyo National Museum, courtesy of the Hirayama Art Research Foundation. Although having been conserved nearly 20 years ago, the scroll is still in perfect condition.


CBL J 1154 before (left) and after conservation (centre & right) by the Handa Kyūseidō Studio.

As I was installing this beautiful scroll, I remembered with great delight my extra curricula visit to the Handa Kyūseidō conservation studio in September 2015. Set in a peaceful neighbourhood of Tokyo, I was given a comprehensive tour of the traditional conservation studio by Ikuko Handa, the head of conservation at the studio, and Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator at the studio and my course tutor.


Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator and IICROM course tutor, demonstrating use of the karibari.

The visit was organised thanks to Keiko Furumoto. Keiko was the first Heritage Council conservation intern at the National Library of Ireland in 2007 and she has been working at the Handa Kyūseidō studio since returning to Japan. Since completing her internship, she has regularly returned to Ireland and made one of these visits in early April 2015 – around the same time I found out I had been accepted for the JPC course- so we kept in touch regarding a possible visit to her workplace in Tokyo.

The Handa Kyūseidō studio is set-up across 3 separate floors. The ground floor is a reception and digitisation area, the first floor is dedicated to the conservation of painted hanging scrolls, hand-scrolls and folding screens and the second floor to archive (historical documents), calligraphy and book conservation. Although it is located in a modern building, the studio is everything one would expect from a traditional Japanese conservation studio: low work tables, tatami mats, paste bowls and sieves, drawers full of Japanese repair papers and of course, karibari boards of all sizes lining the walls!


Julia preparing a handscroll at the ICCROM JPC course (left), and a traditional paste bowl and brushes (right).

It was a wonderful opportunity for the Chester Beatty to reconnect with the prestigious studio, as during the 1990’s the Handa Kyūseidō Studio was also responsible for the restoration of one of the great treasures of the Library, a pair of Japanese picture scrolls entitled Illustrated Scroll of the Song of Everlasting Sorrow (Chōgonka gakan) CBL J 1158 and the beautiful hanging scroll on silk Portrait of the Bodhisattva Jizō (Jizō zō) CBL J 1214.

The funding for this conservation treatment was provided by the Joint Council for the Conservation and Restoration of Ancient Japanese Art Works in Foreign Collections, a council made up of The Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties and the Art Research Foundation and supported by the Tokyo National Museum.


Participants of the ICCROM JPC 2015 course in Kyoto.

I am very grateful to Head of Conservation, Ikuko Handa for her kindness and generosity in facilitating my visit, and my tutor Makoto Kawabata for showing me his work outside of the ICCROM JPC course setting. I am also grateful to Keiko Furumoto for acting as a wonderful tour guide and translator during my visit.

Julia Poirier,  Book and Paper Conservator

The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints

The Chester Beatty Library’s collection of surimono and picture calendars extends to some 375 single sheet prints. Alongside these are the kyōka books and a further 116 surimono with illustrations in the Shijō style popular in Osaka and Kyoto, many of which are preserved in albums. The greater part of this collection was formed between 1954 and 1963.

Acquired by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty for his newly built Library in Dublin, the collection took shape under the specialist guidance of Jack Hillier and Beatty’s own developing interests in Japan’s printed arts. As works created through the collaboration of artists and poets in celebration of new beginnings, it is fitting that these prints were collected in that same spirit.


J 2183 before (above) and after conservation (below)

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ireland: an event precipitated in March 1957 by an exchange of letters between the Japanese and Irish ambassadors in London. The Chester Beatty Library is marking this anniversary with a special exhibition The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints (March 3 – August 27 2017). Dr Mary Redfern, curator of East Asian collections, selected 95 single surimono prints for exhibition and a number of poetry anthologies and surimono albums all from the Library’s own collections and many by leading artists such as Hokusai and Gakutei. This new exhibition focuses on the surimono and the literati circles that created them.

The Library received a generous grant from the American Friends of the Arts in Ireland (AFAI) which enabled the Chester Beatty Library to conserve, mount and frame all the prints and related material currently on display.


The overall condition of the surimono collection is very good. The prints were all carefully mounted when the Library received funding for a conservator to travel to Dublin from Tokyo to advise and oversee the project. The mount card used nearly 40 years ago was conservation quality but quite thin and lightweight, so offered little support during handling and would not have prevented the prints touching the glass when framed for exhibition. The window apertures had been cut without a bevel, and overlapped the edges of the prints, hiding precious details of the images from scholars and visitors. The decision was therefore made to remove them from their historic mounts, and transfer them to new standard size mounts made from heavier (1650 micron) acid-free, buffered Conservation Board.

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J 2171 Before (left) and after conservation (right)

The prints had been attached to the previous mounts with conservation standard handmade Japanese paper tabs, so these were gently lifted from the backboards and retained where possible. Each print was then gently surface cleaned using soft brushes.

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Removing J 2171 from its old mount, and gently surface cleaning.

The prints were then carefully measured and in order to fully reveal the detail of the surimono, the new bevelled-edge apertures were cut slightly larger than each object so that the entire print could be seen. In order to mount the prints in this way, additional Japanese paper tabs were attached to the bottom edge of each print with wheat starch paste. These additional tabs along the bottom edge allow the prints to ‘float’ in the aperture, whilst the tabs hold them safely in place under the bevelled window.

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Applying new tabs to the tail edge of J 2171

The surimono were then carefully positioned in their new mounts, and the uppermost Japanese paper tabs were secured to the backboard, again using wheat starch paste and dried under weights.

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Mounting J 2171

New mahogany-coloured frames were ordered and each print selected for exhibition was framed by the team. Bespoke archival boxes have been ordered to house the collection while in long-term storage.


Mounting and framing the conserved surimono prints in the lab.

The seven bound volumes to be included in the exhibition were all in good condition. They were surface cleaned and minor tear repairs carried out where necessary. Bespoke acrylic cradles were made to exactly fit the opening of each volume. These were then installed in three display cases in the Library’s Temporary exhibition Gallery.


Four bound volumes on display.

Finally, the framed prints were hung in the gallery ready for the opening on 3rd March.HangingThanks to the generous grant provided by the American Friends of the Arts in Ireland, the Chester Beatty Library has been able to ensure the long-term preservation of this rare and beautiful collection.

The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints runs from March 3 until August 27, 2017. We hope you’ll have the chance to visit the exhibition over the holidays.

In with the new: gallery rotations

In preparation for our current temporary exhibition Hong Ling: A retrospective, curator of the East Asian collection, Dr Mary Redfern, selected a number of objects from the Chinese collection to complement the exhibition. The items are displayed in the Arts of the Book gallery, and have been installed as part of the annual rotation of the galleries in order to coincide with the new exhibition opening.


Installing jade books in the Arts of the Book gallery.

The conservation team is involved in all aspects of preparation for gallery rotations. We condition assess each individual item before undertaking conservation work as necessary. Stabilisation of fragile objects includes pigment examination and consolidation if necessary, paper repairs, and sometimes also work on the covers or binding structure of bound volumes which might otherwise be too fragile for display.

Once each artefact has been stabilised, we can then begin to plan for its display in the galleries. The mounting system for bound codices involves carefully measuring and drawing the open profile for each manuscript, before commissioning a tailor-made Perspex cradle that supports the unique opening of each book.


Mounting a print with temporary Melinex V hinges; Installing a scroll in a bespoke Perspex mount in the gallery.

We mount prints individually in conservation standard window mounts. If the mount will be a temporary home for the print or folio, we often use Melinex V hinges to attach the print to the mount board. This method is very useful as it does not require any adhesive to be in contact with the object. Once the mounting system is secure, the mounts are installed in the display cases using Perspex pins at top and bottom to hold them in place. Scrolls are carefully unrolled and both ends fitted into C shape Perspex holders which are secured to a sloped support. Using internal blocks and panel measurements, together with Perspex fittings, we try to ensure our mounting systems disappear and do not distract from the beautiful objects.


Installing a mounted print in the gallery.

When we are finally ready to install the objects, we work closely with the curator to decide their placement in each case as well as lighting. We keep light levels at a maximum of 50 lux to protect the delicate and light-sensitive pigments and inks. Once the objects are installed, we monitor the environmental conditions in the galleries each day to check they remain stable and that no fluctuations in temperature or relative humidity are recorded.

The objects removed from display to allow these new items to go on view are then condition checked in the conservation lab before being returned to storage for a well-deserved rest. Blocks, frames and mounting systems are safely put away, ready to be used again in the near future.


Installing an ink study gifted to the Library by the artist, Hong Ling.

Hong Ling: A retrospective is open now and will run until January 29th 2017. We hope you’ll have the chance to visit the exhibition over the holidays. Make sure you also take a look at the Chinese section in Arts of the Book to see the treasures on display including Hong Ling’s beautiful ink study which the artist gifted to the Library to commemorate the opening of the exhibition.


Thank you for following the Chester Beatty Conservation blog during 2016. We’d like to wish you all a happy and peaceful festive season, and we look forward to sharing more of our work with you in the New Year!

A stitch in time


In August this year, a digitisation team from Ritsumeikan University’s Art Research Centre in Japan will travel to the Chester Beatty in order to digitise our Japanese printed book collection. The collection includes more than one hundred woodblock-printed illustrated books from the Edo period (c. 1603–1868). International collaborations with teams such as this one are key to enabling digital access to our collections, which in turn reduces the need to handle these objects so frequently ensuring their preservation.

A short condition survey of the selected items was carried out which highlighted a number of volumes with damaged and weakened sewing. As the sewing of these bindings is integral to their structure, it was essential that we carry out repairs to make the bindings suitable for handling during the digitisation process.

The fragmentary sewing was reinforced with lengths of new soft linen thread. This was joined to the existing silk or cotton thread with a simple binder’s knot, which could then be used to continue the sewing through the original sewing holes or stations.

Once complete, this simple technique proved strong enough to hold the previously loose volumes together, allowing the books to open safely once again.

Julia’s journey to Japan

In March this year I applied for the ICCROM and NRICPT Japanese Paper Conservation course, which has been held for the past 20 years. I was overjoyed when I found I had been selected as one of the ten students from around the world to attend the course in Tokyo. Reading the accounts of past participants online including Elizabeth Hepher and Emma LeCornu, I was intrigued by how useful and practical their experiences had been. The amazing programme is relevant to anyone preserving and caring for a collection such as the Chester Beatty Library.


Participants watching a demonstration, and Julia enjoying the first days of the course.

The Japanese Paper Conservation course is known amongst paper conservators internationally as one of the best opportunities available to learn traditional Japanese conservation techniques and the proper use of Japanese tools and papers. It is exceptionally well organised and has been refined over the years to give participants a truly amazing learning experience.The main practical component of the course was the opportunity to make a hand scroll (makimono) from start to finish. Each step of the process was carefully demonstrated by the teachers (Senior Conservator Makoto Kawabata, Chief Conservators Atsushi Ogasawara and Keigo Hotta).


Tutors of the course, Atsushi Ogasawara and Makoto Kawabata, with our translator Michiko Matsubara.


Atsushi Ogasawara using a Uchibake pounding brush.

The two honshi (main art works) selected by the organisers to make our model scrolls were printed pages from the famous Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (an anthology of 100 poems by 100 poets). To mount them in a scroll format we attached three different linings to the honshi before joining them together. We did the same on the tail paper which attached to the honshi and later attached to a bamboo roller. An indigo-dyed cover was attached to protect the scroll and tied around it with a silk plaited ribbon. Each step is crucial to making the hand scroll. The use of lining papers with their different properties and different glues (aged paste furu-nori or fresh paste shi-nori) was essential to understanding the construction process of these objects and therefore their deterioration. Furu-nori has a weak adhesion power, however it is commonly used in scroll construction because of the flexibility it imparts to the lined paper. Careful pounding of the paper with uchibake is required after using the furu-nori to help the bond between the papers.

Having spent a week at the Restorient studio in Leiden in August 2013, I was familiar with the low tables Japanese conservators work on, the lining technique using the hikkake bamboo stick and some of the tools that we used during the practical work in Tokyo such as the karibari drying board. However, watching the elegance, the grace and most importantly the precision that went into the tutors’ every movement at each step of the process helped consolidate and deepen my knowledge of the Japanese approach to conservation. It was really special being able to enjoy all the demonstrations executed before us and have each of the processes broken down and explained in detail by masters in the field. I now have a far better understanding of the construction of these complex structures.


Preparing to attach the indigo-dyed cover, and the finished scroll.

The respect the Japanese have for their material is obvious and I have also learned a great deal about caring for the tools that surround us daily. Cleaning and taking care of brushes (bake) and paste bowls (noribon), using the spatula against the sieve the correct way to avoid widening the fine horse hair structure when sieving the paste, cooking paste and sharpening knives, all need great care and patience.


A nadebake brush and roll of the coarse hemp bristles it is made from.

On the penultimate day of the course the Tanaka brush makers gave us an in-depth lecture on Japanese hake brushes used in conservation, the specifics of each type of hair (goat, deer, horse, badger and many others!) and how to take care of them properly.

It takes ten years of training to become a conservator in Japan so I am far from being an expert after my three weeks on this course, but it will certainly help with my conservation choices regarding Japanese objects and when applying Japanese techniques.

It was also a real treat to visit the town of Mino during our study tour, which is widely known as one of the best paper producing towns in Japan. Japanese paper is used daily in most conservation studios around the world and has been for some time. Mino paper has recently been added to Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.


A beautiful demonstration at Minotakekami Kobo papermakers.

The visit to Minotakekami Kobo papermakers gave me great insight into the art of papermaking. I had seen a number of short films on Japanese papermaking over the years but watching the process live in front of my eyes was really special. The papermakers discussed bamboo screen fabrication, the traditional preparation of the kozo bark into paper pulp and the sheet formation (movement of the pulp on the screen) and finally demonstrated the drying process on wooden boards.


A freshly formed sheet of paper, and sorting the finished sheets by quality and weight.

I was particularly interested in the upstairs room where the paper was stored on shelves in batches and the quality and weight checked before it was sold. Sadly we could not see more of Mino because a typhoon was threatening to come our way and it was decided to leave for Kyoto sooner than we had previously planned.Kyoto is a beautiful and fascinating city and spending more time there was not a problem. There are more temples in this city than you can imagine and they are all worth a visit. The Kinkaku-ji temple, or Golden Pavilion, was absolutely breathtaking in the bright autumnal light.


During our organised tour I particularly enjoyed the visit to the knife shop. Kanetaka Hamono Shinise’s knives are handmade in their workshop at the rear of the shop. The business and craftsmanship has been passed down through a number of generations and I could not resist buying a handmade marubocho knife. We had perfected the use of this knife to cut lengths of paper during the course and I brought one back to our studio in Dublin.


In the workshop of Kanetaka Hamono Shinise.

On my very last day in Japan I spend a few hours in the Tokyo National Museum before dashing off to the airport. As I reflected on my three weeks in Japan I realised how privileged I had been to be involved in this prestigious curriculum. I have learned so much that I can re-use in my work, met incredible people (both organisers and students) and hopefully will visit Japan again in the near future. Someone from the course said that if you see Mount Fuji once, you will return to Japan seven times. I didn’t see Mount Fuji during my travels but I would happily return seven times!

Julia Poirier, book and paper conservator

If you would like to learn more about Japanese conservation techniques, join Sydney Thomson from the Restorient Studio who will give a lunchtime lecture on Thursday 15th October at 1.10pm in the lecture theatre at the Chester Beatty Library on the conservation of the Tale of Oeyama.

Conserving the ogres of Oeyama

The Chester Beatty’s mid-seventeenth century version of The Tale of Oeyama (大江山物語), has recently undergone an extensive programme of conservation, which started when I delivered the handscrolls to the Restorient Studio in April 2012. Last month, I was delighted to have the opportunity to travel to Leiden to meet with conservators Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson and celebrate the end of this exciting three year project.

I am very pleased to announce that the three Oeyama scrolls are now the focus of Damsels for Dinner, an exhibition currently on display in the Library’s Art of the Book Gallery until 31 January 2016.


The Restorient Studio is based in the grounds of the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde in the centre of Leiden. The museum is fantastic and I never miss an opportunity to visit when I’m there. It was founded in 1837 making it one of the oldest ethnological museums in the world; however the use of interactive multi-media, large scale projections and cutting edge design make each world culture represented come to life. During this trip, I was lucky enough to see the spectacular Geisha exhibition, just before it closed, which gave a fascinating insight into this tradition, which is often surrounded by mysticism and misunderstanding. The highlight for me was a breathtaking display of over 20 kimonos, which slowly rotated.


Andrew Thompson and Sydney Thomson founded Restorient in 2005, they specialise in the conservation of Asian art and their workshop is modelled on traditional Japanese restoration studios with much of the work carried out at low level benches on a Japanese tatami mat floor. The studio is equipped with a wide range of materials and tools sourced throughout Asia. Especially important are the large Japanese drying boards (karibari), which my colleague Julia recently blogged about.
j-1145_during-26Andrew has over thirty years’ experience in conservation; for many years he was in charge of the prominent Hirayama conservation studio at the British Museum and was responsible for the conservation of their extensive collections of Eastern art on paper and silk. Sydney has more than twenty years of experience in Japanese painting conservation; she studied in the Usami Shokakudo, a world renowned scroll mounting studio at the Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto, Japan. She also spent ten years as a senior conservator in the Hirayama Studio at the British Museum, specialising in the conservation and restoration of Japanese hanging scrolls (kakemono) and Japanese folding screens (byobu). They are both accredited members of ICON, the Institute of Conservation in the UK.

The Tale of Oeyama (大江山物語) is one of the best-known heroic stories from medieval Japan, and is one of my favourites. It tells the tale of the fearless warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu (948-1021) who uses his courage and cunning to defeat the demon Shuten Doji who has been kidnapping and eating maidens from Kyoto. The Library’s version of the tale was produced in a set of three scrolls and has been painstakingly conserved at the Restorient Studio, Leiden thanks to the generous support of the Sumitomo Foundation, Tokyo.
J1145_during_consolidation.1The three scrolls measure between 10 and 15 meters in length and are made up of several different layers of Japanese hand-made paper with each scroll attached to a wooden roller at one end with an outer silk cover at the other. Due to their fragile nature and repeated handling, the scrolls had become heavily creased, in order to preserve them it was necessary to remove the old paper linings, strengthen the creases and attach three new linings. Over time, the traditional Japanese pigments had weakened and begun to crack or flake. Before the old linings could be removed, the conservators carefully consolidated the pigments to ensure they were stable. The project was completed by attaching new silk covers and adding custom-made rollers which fit over the narrow nineteenth-century rollers to reduce the risk of creasing in the future. The scrolls are now stored in a new custom-made Paulownia wood box.

Throughout the project Andrew and Sydney kept a blog that tracked their progress. They have produced a fascinating short movie entitled Conserving the Ogres of Oeyama which highlights their incredible work carried out over the last three years.

This is the second project that has been completed thanks to the generous support of The Sumitomo Foundation. The Library was fortunate enough to receive a grant in 2009 to conserve two early-seventeenth century Japanese handscrolls, which are the earliest surviving illustrated version of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. On their return to the Library the hand scrolls were exhibited in the Library’s temporary gallery.

We are looking forward to welcoming the Restorient Studio to the Chester Beatty Library in October and Sydney Thomson will give a lunchtime lecture on the conservation of the Tale of Oeyama on Thursday 15 October at 1.10pm.

Andrew and Sydney have become part of the extended Chester Beatty family and we are very much looking forward to working with them as they undertake the meticulous conservation of The Tale of Tawara Toda scrolls (the third project to be funded by the Sumitomo Foundation) and the conservation of two paintings on silk depicting the Dutch trading post of Dejima in the port of Nagasaki (generously supported by the Members of the Library). I look forward to writing about the progress of these projects in the future.

2015_05_restorient-visit_leiden-3Jessica Baldwin

Head of Collections & Conservation 

Making a Karibari: the Japanese drying board

I was delighted to get the opportunity to attend this three-day workshop organised by the Institute of Conservator-Restorers in Ireland (ICRI) and generously supported by the Heritage Council. This practical workshop was hosted by the National Library of Ireland (20-22 April 2015) and taught by Japanese paper conservator, Namiko Tagawa. The six participants each had the opportunity to construct a 60 x 90 cm Karibari board, which is traditionally used in Japanese conservation to slow and control the drying rate of newly lined artefacts and scrolls under tension.

2 - Group discussion on Japanese papers and brushes

Group discussion on Japanese papers and brushes.

On the first morning, we were all eager to start; Namiko was really enthusiastic and pragmatic so we got going straight away. The class started with a short introduction to the Karibari core which is made of cedar wood; it is lightweight (essential when making large boards) and has a pleasant smell which is naturally repellent to insect and mould attack. The lattice structure is secured with bamboo nails and is extended to form little legs at the top and bottom of the frame. Our Karibari frames were pre-made by the Masumi Corporation a Japanese material supplier.

1 - Construction layers of a karibari boardTraditionally, eight layers of paper are applied to the cedar wood frame to construct a Karibari board. However, due to the limited time available for our class we only had time to apply five. Namiko carefully selected the most important layers and excluded the three layers which are more important when making a sliding door. Namiko explained how the paper is selected to prepare the board; a variety of papers can be used for each layer such as Shekishu-shi or Minogami as long as the increase in weight of the paper for each layer is respected. For this workshop we used a Hosokawa-shi paper (100% domestic Kozo cooked in soda ash, unbleached and stainless steel dried) in 12, 16, 20 and 24 gram weights.

On day one we applied the first and second layers to our Karibari. The first layer, honeshibari, prevents any warping or distortion to the wooden frame. The wheat starch paste must be thick and tacky and was applied directly to the wood and left to soak in for a few minutes. A second layer of paste was then applied before a full sheet of 12gsm dry paper was laid over the wooden core and smoothed down with a nadebake or smoothing brush with slightly damp bristles. The edges were trimmed with a straight edge while the paper was still slightly wet, which is the Tokyo style of karibari making; while in Kyoto the paper is left larger and folded around the sides of the karibari frame. Throughout the workshop it was interesting to learn about the difference in techniques used by conservators traditionally trained in Tokyo and Kyoto.

3 - Dobari layer

Applying the Dobari layer

After the first layer is applied, the board is turned over and the same process carried out to the second side. It was interesting to note that both layers needed to be applied one after the other, with no drying time in between; this prevents distortion of the frame. The second layer, dōbari, tightens the frame further. means ‘rib’ and bari means ‘to apply’ so the idea of the second layer is to apply a ribcage-like structure to strengthen the board. A full sheet of paper cut a little smaller than the first layer was fully pasted out with a thinner wheat starch paste. with assistance, the frame was held vertically with the top edge tilted forward. The pasted sheet of paper was held to the top corners of the frame before the board was tilted back allowing the sheet of paper to lie down naturally onto the board. The paper was then smoothed down before the action was repeated on the other side.

4 - ShitafukuroOn the second day we cut away the four legs of the frame and applied the third and fourth paper layers to the frame. The shitafukuro and uwafukuro form pockets –fukuro– which prevent distortion caused by the tension of the uwabari, the fifth layer.

The shitafukuro was prepared by cutting a sheet of paper in to eighths. Namiko showed us how to square a sheet of paper and cut straight edges using traditional techniques. At this stage only the edges of the paper are attached to the board. Each piece was applied to overlap the one next to it by about 2.5 cm. The pieces for the uwafukuro layer were water cut all around and applied in the same way as shitafukuro to both sides of the board. However, the shitafukuro pieces were offset with the layer below to give a brick-work effect and the overlap on this layer was only about 1 cm. This careful staggering of the paper overlap in the shitafukuro and uwafukuro avoids a build-up of paper which would create an uneven surface.

On the morning of the third day we applied the last layer of paper to our board. The uwabari is a full lining over the entire surface of the board and was adhered with a layer of very thin paste. To ease the application of this lining, the paper was placed on to a large sheet of release paper before it was pasted out. In contrast to the application of all of the other layers, the board was then carefully placed on top of the pasted paper before being turned over to allow for smoothing of the sheet with the nadebake. Finally, the release paper was peeled off, the lining smoothed down once more, and the edges folded onto the edges of the frame. Once both sides were lined, we cut strips of paper to cover the edges of the frame and applied them to the board to finish it.

6 - Uwabari layer

The Uwabari layer

In the afternoon Namiko explained how to finish the board with several applications of fermented persimmon juice (shibu) from the kaki fruit. The high tannin content of the persimmon juice oxidises to give the karibari board its distinctive dark brown-red colour, whilst also waterproofing it. A minimum of four coats are required, but more may be necessary to achieve the desired colour. A brush with no metal must be used and ideally the brushing should be done on a bright day to allow the coating to dry quickly without sinking in to the paper too much. Shibu has a strong, distinctive, and quite unpleasant smell, so it is best to apply it outdoors if possible! On this note, we set off to an improvised work space where the sun was shining for Namiko’s demonstration. To dry, the board must stand in the sun for a while before it is turned over and after a little less than an hour a second coat could be applied. The weather was really blissful!

Working with shibu

Working with shibu in the sunshine! CBL’s finished Karibari after nine applications of Persimmon juice.

Back at the Chester Beatty the following day I set myself the task of applying the first few waterproofing coats of shibu to our own karibari board. The weather was still warm and sunny so I decided to make the most of our roof garden! The first solution of persimmon juice was 1 part persimmon: 2 parts water and Puneeta, Kristine and I took turns to apply the careful stripes. The sun was so strong that within 45 minutes of drying and board rotation we could apply the second coat (1 persimmon: 1 water). The next day we applied the third layer (1 persimmon: ½ water), a concentration that was used for each of the additional layers. In the following weeks a further six layers of shibu were applied to the board. The karibari now has to be allowed to dry fully over two or three months before it can be used.

I would like to thank Louise O’Connor, ICRI member and Conservator at the National Library for taking the initiative to invite Namiko to Dublin after her participation at the ICON Adapt and Evolve conference in London in April 2015. All participants were delighted with Namiko’s expertise and enthusiasm, and look forward to using their karibari boards in the not too distant future.

Julia Poirier, Book & Paper Conservator