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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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Monday, 24 November 2014

One direction......

The arrows indicate the direction the fibres align

One feature of Japanese hand made paper is that of a distinct fibre direction. It is easy to appreciate (especially with a mould as large as the one pictured above) that the fibres align more naturally along a vertical axis from the bottom to the top during the formation of the sheet. The finished sheet is therefore stronger in the horizontal direction.

In practical terms this can be used to advantage. The paper hinges on Japanese screens for example must be cut so that the fibres run across the hinge  so as to utilise the paper in its strongest direction. In pasting or dying paper the majority of the brush strokes should be along the fibre direction as brushing hard across the fibres will weaken the paper more quickly and cause the fibres to roll .

On the hand scrolls the fibre direction must be switched between the  layers of paper so that the scroll will both roll smoothly but remain flat when opened.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Kawa-kami Gozen

Legend has it that around 1,500 years ago a woman from either Korea or China came to Japan and taught the people of Echizen, Fukui Prefecture how to make paper from Kozo (mulberry). She felt sympathy towards them as they had to live in the mountains, and had no rice fields to support themselves. 

Afterwards she mysteriously disappeared to the upper river, so she was named "Kawa-kami Gozen", meaning "Up-river Princess". Since then, the Princess has been enshrined as a Paper Goddess with two local Gods in Okamoto Otaki Shrine.

These Gods usually live high on the mountains but every year they descend down to the shrine and stay for just three days over the 3rd/4th//5th May. They are welcomed by the local people who hold a special festival in their honour the Kami no Matsuri - the Festival of God and Paper.

Set high on the mountainside amongst towering cedars there has been a shrine here for well over a thousand years and this version of the shrine was built by specialist carpenters who came from the Temple at Eiheiji in 1843 and took the team seven years to build. 

On a recent visit to Echizen we were able to pay our respects at this beautiful shrine. Two types of specialist paper we are using in the conservation of the handscrolls are made by artisans who work here in the Echizen Papermaking village.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Rashōmon Gate

The Rashōmon Gate in Kyoto was the most imposing of the two main city gates and stood at the southern end of the monumental Suzaku avenue which led to the Imperial Palace. It was built in 789 and was an impressive 32 meters wide by 7.9 meters high.

By the 12th century however the gate had fallen into disrepair as the southern districts of Kyoto suffered from regular flooding that made the land in the area unusable. It had become an unsavory place, with a reputation as a hideout for thieves and other disreputable characters. People would abandon corpses and unwanted babies at the gate. It was also said to be haunted by Ogres who at twilight seized whoever passed by. The missing victims were never seen again and it was whispered that the Ogres were cannibals who not only killed the unfortunate victims but also ate them....sound familiar ???

The film set from Rashōmon
Ironically the name Rashōmon is  generally better know due to the film of the same name made by Akira Kurosawa in 1950, a still from which is pictured right. Even the name of the long dismantled gate seems to have still had sufficent resonance so as to suggest a suitably atmospheric backdrop for a drama. In fact the gate was finally demolished in the 15th century and the stones were used to build Koriyama Castle
All that remains today of this auspicious monument is this stone marker in a children's playground...........

Big history - small monument ?

Thursday, 24 July 2014


The magnificent Fujii-san uchibake
Genjiro Fujii

Of all our tools it is perhaps the Japanese tapping brush (uchibake) which takes pride of place in the studio. The uchibake we use are very special and are handmade by Genjiro Fujii in Kyoto where his family have been making brushes for almost 200 years.

The fibre is Indonesian Hemp Palm with a tapered lacquered handle to help with gripping the brush when in use. These brushes although quite large are superbly balanced and this means they are comfortable to use over extended periods of time.

Uchibake are used on hand scrolls when we are applying intermediate misu -gami paper linings with the 10 year old aged paste (furunori). A very dilute mixture of the paste can be used as the action of tapping meshes the paper fibres into place. 

Fujii-san's uchibake are very highly regarded and all the major scroll mounting studios both in Japan and indeed around the world use and appreciate these remarkable tools.

Using the tapping brush to attach misu-gami paper linings to the Ogre scrolls

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


In the early scenes from the first scroll our intrepid Samurai are shown with their Japanese bows and arrows. These were integral to the arsenal of weapons available to Samurai and a thorough understanding of kyujutsu (bow technique) was considered essential.

The bow (yumi) is made of a laminate of woods and is asymmetrical with the top being much longer than the bottom. This design assisted archers on horseback as they could more easily fire from either side of the horse. 

The arrows (Ya) are traditionally made of bamboo. Every Ya has a gender (male ya are called haya; female ya, otoya); with the fletchings being made from feathers from alternate sides of the bird, the haya spins clockwise upon release while the otoya spins counter-clockwise. The feathers from eagle or hawk were preferred.

Binding the fletchings onto the arrow shaft

Once the arrow is released, the grip on the bow is loosened allowing the bow to spin in the left hand so that the string stops in front of the archer's outer left  forearm. This action is a fascinating combination of technique and the natural working of the bow. It is unique to kyujutsu.

Below is just one of many clips on Youtube featuring traditional Japanese archery:


Friday, 25 April 2014

Tension !

An important piece of studio equipment are the Japanese drying boards - karibari. These are constructed using a Japanese white cedar lattice covered with many layers of strong mulberry fibred paper. This is then coated with a fermented persimmon juice called kaki-shibu. The kaki-shibu comes from the astringent persimmon rather than the sweet culinary version and has a high proportion of tannin. This gives a semi porous coating which allows the paintings to dry from both sides in a more balanced way rather than from one side only. 

The karibari are light and portable considering their size and essential in helping condition and flatten the paintings. To attach the sections of hand scroll wheat starch paste is applied to a fold of excess paper lining so that the painting is effectively floating. The paintings are left under tension on the karibari to condition for many weeks.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Doji of the day


It seems inevitable that an Ogre who is very fond of Sake and is able to transform from Ogre to human form at will would prove difficult to portray.

There have been many attempts to represent this foulest of beings. Above are two triptychs (wood block prints) and two examples from hand scrolls showing the diversity of this very special Ogre.

The Chester Beatty Ogre however is by far the most dramatic and that which involves the most blood loss !

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Soy size

Scroll one during retouching

Whilst the condition of the three hand scrolls is generally very good there are inevitably some areas of loss and damage which have occurred during their four hundred year history. Any missing areas are repaired with a matching gampi fibred paper. However before we can apply any colour to  harmonise the repair with it's surroundings it needs to be sized.

The traditional way of doing this is to apply a very dilute solution of freshly prepared soy milk. This prevents the colour from being absorbed too quickly by the paper and allows a much greater degree of control when applying any colour.

The stages of preparing the soy size

The soy beans are soaked overnight - around 10 beans to 100ml of water. These are then ground to a pulp (in this case using an earthenware Japanese grinding bowl -suribachi), strained to separate the liquid from the pulp and then diluted with more water for use.  

Contemporary artists also find this soy size very useful when working with absorbent papers.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Happy Horse !

Detail from Scroll 1

As we enter into the "Year of the Horse" (Umadashi) we should take this opportunity to consider the horses belonging to our Samurai. Although much of the hunt for the Ogres was conducted on foot due to the mountainous terrain it would have been important that the artist stressed the status of our Samurai by including a reference to their undoubted skills as horsemen. 

However the Japanese horse at this time would have been quite small, more like a wiry pony and not best suited for carrying the weight of an amour clad Samurai into battle.

Horses were later imported to increase the size and strength of the indigenous Japanese horses available, and there are records showing that the Dutch East India Company were bringing Western horses to Japan as gifts to the Shogun. The horse below clearly shows evidence of this imported bloodstock.  

A Sacred White Horse at the Kamigamo Shrine, Kyoto

As the horse is a symbol of nobility, class, speed and perseverance it promises to be an auspicious year for hunting Ogres..........

Restorient would like to wish all the followers of this blog a Happy New Year and our very best for 2014.  

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