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The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin with the continued support of The Sumitomo Foundation in Tokyo, have now commissioned Restorient to conserve three more of their most treasured Japanese paintings. Dating from the early 17th century this set of hand scrolls chart the epic tale of "Hunting the Ogres" It will be possible to follow the conservation of these magnificent hand scrolls here on this blog. We at Restorient are delighted to have the opportunity to share this remarkable project, and to offer some insights into this type of specialist conservation.

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Thursday, 5 December 2013

Fish !

Our Samurai with their swords

Emperor Meiji abolished the Samurai class during the reformation of Japan in favour of a Western style military. In the summer of 1869 the population was formally reclassified as Nobles, former Samurai and Commoners.
By 1876 ex-warriors were even deprived of the right to carry swords. The effect of this shift was far reaching. The craftsmen who supplied the many thousands of Samurai with swords were left without customers and this in turn affected a number of professions. These included the suppliers of all the various component parts such as the silk braid weavers, the fish skin suppliers as well as the metal workers all of whom suffered.

The skin of a Stingray wrapped around a sword handle

A sword handle wrapped with silk braid

Here in the studio there is a reminder of this proud tradition. Hammered onto the surface of a modern kogatana is an interesting pattern. It has been put there by a family who still use today the visual ray skin reference to remind everyone that they were traditional metal workers whose ancestors made swords for Samurai.

The Kogatana

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Overdressed ?

It was not at all unusual in Japan to see itinerant Pilgrims and Priests often carrying a portable altar. These could be either men or women and it was common at the end of a working life to go on a pilgrimage. Suspended from the front of their sash there would be a small gong to announce their arrival as well as bells they jingled and a short staff they shook in front of them. They relied upon charitable donations and they invariably wore plain inconspicuous clothes.

An itinerant priest c1867-1868
Itinerant priests c1880

In order to travel incognito the Ogre hunters decided to "disguise" themselves as Buddhist pilgrims. However, whilst they are clearly masters of all forms of combat they seem to have been somewhat reluctant to forgo a dashing outfit in the interests of disguise ........

Our Samurai and their rather unconvincing "disguise ''

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Cutting Edge...

Staying with the theme of "edge tools" we should mention the swords used by our Ogre hunters.

Japanese craftsmen have for many centuries manufactured the most formidable weapons. Historically swords were tested (tameshigiri) on human bodies purchased from the execution grounds.

The finest swords were tested on multiple bodies tied together. One famous old Japanese sword was inscribed on the tang that it had successfully sliced through seven bodies with a single cut !

The bodies were carefully inspected before cutting to check for disease, primarily because it was believed that sickness would make the pure sword unclean. After each gruesome cut, the sword and the target were carefully examined to determine if the edge had been notched and that the cuts were clean.

During the Meiji period test cutting on the bodies of criminals became illegal. These were replaced by targets made of soaked and bound wara (rice straw) with a bamboo core.

We must assume that all of the Samurai swords would have been deemed worthless after dispatching the Ogres of Oeyama........

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


Two Marubocho - the Kyoto style handle is to the left, Tokyo to the right
As we apply many narrow 3mm strips of Japanese mulberry paper to support the many creases on the scrolls we should mention one of the most important knives used by scroll mounters. The Marubocho (maru just means curved). These are used for cutting all paper and lined silk.

Incredibly sharp with a very fine cutting edge they are comprised of alternating layers of soft and hard steels. As with our other edge tools only Japanese water-stones are used to sharpen these amazing knives.

When cutting there is only light pressure sideways to guide the blade along the straight-edge and minimal pressure downwards as they are SO sharp.
It is essential that they are used with a square-sided straight-edge to prevent the fine cutting edge from veering off........!!!!!

Very narrow strips of a thin Japanese mulberry paper are cut using the marubocho. These are then used to support the numerous creases throughout the scrolls. The strips are cut across the grain direction of the paper so that the tiny strip will be at it's most effective. The strips are pasted with a dilute wheat starch paste before being applied along each crease. 

Raking light and transmitted light sources are used to highlight where a strip is needed. The pasted strip is rolled around a bamboo spatula to transport and help to accurately apply it along the crease. 

Monday, 24 June 2013

An Imperial visitor

The Princess admiring the scrolls                  (photo Roseanna Bancroft)
On Friday 21st June we were very honoured to receive a visit to the project from Her Imperial Highness, Princess Mako of Akishino. She was interested to hear that through the generosity of the Sumitomo Foundation that this was the second conservation project, following on from the "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" handscrolls in 2012

The Princess studied at University College Dublin during 2010 and has very fond memories of her time in Ireland and was familiar with the Chester Beatty Library and its collections.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Hello Goodbye

Today is Queens day in the Netherlands and it is being celebrated with even more enthusiasm than ever. The reason for this is that Queen Beatrix has abdicated and the investiture of Prince Willem to King takes place today. The Dutch Royal Family are immensely popular and the whole country will be following this historic event.

Somewhere amongst the invited dignitaries there is Prince Charles from England - clearly hoping that this whole abdication thing might not go unnoticed back home.......... 

Thursday, 21 March 2013


Uchigumo as part of a scroll mount

Deep in the mountains of Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, Japan, there is a paper-maker who still makes by hand a remarkable paper, the origins of which are over a thousand years old. Iwano Heizaburo is still making uchigumo - Cloud patterened paper. The oldest existing piece of uchigumo paper is part of an anthology, Hōraikiri said to have been copied out during the Tengi era (1053-1058).

To make this decorative paper, a thin gampi paper is first dyed with indigo and then re-beaten into a pulp. Cloud-like shapes of this blue pulp are then applied to a wet sheet of torinoko paper so that they appear as though they are floating along the length of the top and bottom of the sheet. Originally uchigumo was made with only indigo but later papers with indigo-dyed clouds at the top and purple dyed clouds at the bottom became more popular.


Iwano-san in his workshop

We have now asked Iwano-san if he could make us some uchigumo which we hope to use as the inner lining of the cover silks for the  Shuten Dōji hand scrolls.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Daikan -The Great Cold

...... ready in 2023
For us here at Restorient like the other traditional Japanese scroll mounting studios around the world, the coldest part of the year has a very special significance. 

It is during "The Great Cold" (daikan)
that we are all busy making large jars of Japanese gluten-free wheat starch paste. These will be stored in a cool even climate, often in cellars or basements to mature over a period of ten years to produce aged paste (furunori). During this time the jars are checked annually and the covering of water replenished. 

The paste as it ages undergoes retrogradation and becomes softer and more flexible during this time. It is used in conjunction with the Japanese pounding brush (uchibake) and is integral for the assembly of soft flexible scrolls. 

It does put the cliche "here is one we prepared earlier"  into sharp perspective as we are currently using a 2002 aged paste to apply layers of soft misu-gami paper to sections of the "Ogres" hand scroll.

As we leave the Daikan and move into February the old Japanese kanji for which is Kisaragi which helpfully translates as "wear more clothes" we should remind ourselves that however cold it is - it's never too cold for Haiku....!

coldest day of the year -
the moon lifts the tide
to overflowing

Hoshika Katsumi aged 75

Friday, 18 January 2013


As we work with the scrolls it is very clear that although the Samurai hunting the Ogres are at the top of their game, they cannot succeed without divine support. They are repeatedly shown holding Buddhist rosaries to ensure their safety, and consult various priests and sages as to their best plan of attack.

A detail of rosaries on scroll

A selection of rosaries, Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto.


Studio rosary and Ibota wax
Here in the studio we also use some glass Buddhist  rosaries. These are used to burnish the final  linings on the back of scrolls which not only polishes the paper but also increases the suppleness of the finished scroll.

These are traditionally used in conjunction with  a very light coating of ibota wax - made from the secretion of an insect that infests the ibota (privet) plant. The same wax is used to protect Japanese swords and is also used to reduce friction when playing old '78s with fibre needles !

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