Tōhoku Kirigami

I went last weekend to see an exhibit here in Tokyo about a special kind of kirigami (paper-cutting), as practiced in Tōhoku, the northern area of Honshū (the main island of Japan).




There’s a connection to the sacred here that I don’t understand well enough to write about, but these cut paper objects were traditionally (and to some extent still are) displayed in shrines and homes, as dedication to the gods. Although it includes some relatively fine cutting, this is really quite different from katagami stencil cutting, which I believe is more widely known in the west. That kind of hyper-precise and intricately delicate technique is not the point here. I would say that this cutting falls more in the Mingei realm. Mingei Undō is usually rendered in English as the Japanese Folk Art Movement, and espouses the realisation of beauty in everyday, utilitarian objects that have been made by nameless and unknown craftspeople. At the same time, it is not Mingei, strictly speaking.

Along with the exhibit, there was a demonstration of the cutting in the museum (image below). I wasn’t able to get a very good picture, but it looks like the catalogue has some good images; the catalogue is on order, and when it arrives, I’ll post some more images in a new post, linking back to here.


photo 2

Abe san in Tokyo

Today we went to see the papermaker Abe Shinichirō. Every year around this time he has a small exhibition at a store here in Tokyo that sells goods only from the prefecture of Shimane. I’ve been to Abe san’s studio a number of times, including two extended study sessions in 2005 and 2008.


Some of Abe san’s decorative papers, cards, and envelopes, including the mizutama (water-drop) pattern that I am particularly fond of.

Abe san’s grandfather (Abe Eishirō) was designated as a National Living Treasure. He made papers of many different kinds, including some of his own invention, but he was known mostly for his gampi papers. When Yanagi Sōetsu saw Abe’s gampi paper in an exhibition he is said to have found it to be the epitome of the ideals of the Folkcraft Movement. Now, Abe Shinichirō (along with his brother and other members of his family and a small staff) continues to make a variety of papers (including gampi of course), but the main line is a range of mitsumata papers, including the very popular Mingei-shi. The subtle sheen and mottled pattern are proud features of these papers.

Lately I’ve been struggling with what I guess would be called social anxiety and I was actually feeling rather nervous about going to see him. But just as I was agonizing over whether to go or not, I chanced upon this:

Humans are creatures of habit, and often when we get caught in habits we can become limited by these behaviours and it can become difficult to progress and grow. Often it is the challenges that we face in life that provide the greatest opportunity for personal growth. Although sometimes these experiences can be painful for us in the short term, in the long term facing challenges provides opportunity for growth.

Boilerplate stuff, I suppose, but perhaps it was the timing of its discovery that sold it for me. Of course now that I’ve gone and come back, I’m glad for it, but this quote gave me the push I needed to get out the door!


A group photo with Abe san (far left), and his family and staff, at the end of my one-month study there in 2008.