Shimekazari, a New Year’s decoration, in some parts of the Chugoku region often uses red chilies along with shide, a zigzag-shaped paper streamer, and a bitter orange called daidai.
Chili has been used as a charm against evil sprits in many regions of the world. In Japan, it is hung over the front door of the house to prevent malicious spirits from entering.
Plants with thorns or a strong smell are also believed to work against evil spirits. In Setsubun, a spring ritual to drive devils away, some regions have the custom of inserting branches of the holly tree and a sardine head in the front door of the house. Shide are also hung to absorb misfortune and danger from the outside.
The “Shime” of shimekazari means “to occupy” and the shimenawa rope is used to mark the boundary of a sacred area where a God resides and to prevent impurities such as epidemics from entering it. It is also used as a seal to prevent good fortune from leaving the same area
The concept of Shimekazari is said to derive from this creation of a sacred space using the shimenawa.
Ralph Kiggell is a British artist who was born in Zambia in 1960. He is a woodblock printer, whose work is strongly influenced by East Asia.
Since he was a child, he had always been interested in Japanese woodblock prints. Works by masters such as HOkusai and Utamaro could be seen periodically in special exhibitions at the British Museum in London.
In 1990, Ralph Kiggell came to Japan to study woodblock printing. He first studied at the Yoshida Hanga Academy in Tokyo under Tsukasa Yoshida, the son of Toshi Yoshida, and the grandson of Hiroshi Yoshida. Later, he learned contemporary woodblock printing techniques at Kyoto Seika University and at Tokyo’s Tama Art University.
Kiggell enjoys the sensitivity of Japanese woodblock printing, because the whole process is carried out by hand using hand-made and natural materials. There is an organic connection from hand to wood to paper. Kiggell thinks that in the digital age that we live in, woodblock printing has particular resonance as an important medium for contemporary artistic expression.
Karakami is the woodblock-printed paper mainly used for Japanese sliding doors. Karakami made in Kyoto is called Kyokarakami. The origin of Karakami, which literally means “Chinese paper,” dates back to the Heian period (794-1192), when Japanese craftsmen in Kyoto began to make paper by modeling after the paper brought from China. Karakami was first used to write poems on it and then in the later periods it came to be used for Japanese sliding doors.
Karakami greatly developed in the middle of the Edo Period (1603-1868). In the book illustrations depicting craftsmen of this time, drawn in 1685 by Hishikawa Moronobu, a Kyokarakami craftsman working in his studio is included.
Kyokarakami is used for sliding doors at historical sites such as Katsura Detached Palace and temples, Japanese tea house and other traditional places. However, there is only one Kyokarakami producing studio in Kyoto today. There, more than 600 woodblock patterns made in the 17th century, each of which is elaborately hand-carved, are preserved and used according to the purpose of use.
The pigments are mixed with mica dust and an adhesive to create paint. The paint is brushed onto a fine mesh sieve covered with gauze and applied on the woodblock pattern by gently patting the sieve. The Washi paper is then pressed down with a gentle sweep of the hands and then carefully peeled away.
Mica dust in the pigments creates gentle and graceful gloss. It is exquisitely beautiful when the patterns on the paper twinkle softly along with flickering flames of a candle.
Sugihara Paper is a traditional handicraft handed down for over 1,000 years in Kami-ku, Taka-cho, Hyogo Pref. Cold and clear water that springs out of the deep mountain and the severe climate with heavy snow have grown fine mulberry that is made into this paper. This craft dates back to the Nara period (701-794). Its further advanced techniques have made it possible to produce fine paper for copying mantras and thin paper. It was once listed as the most excellent paper in quality as well as in quantity in production. However, with the change of times, it was replaced by western-styled paper, and the paper making in Sugihara valley came to a period in 1925. It was in 1966 when the townspeople started to work on the preservation of this craft. They put up the stone monument at the birthplace of Sugihara Paper, and then in 1968, established Sugihara Handmade Paper Factory, where annually 700 kg of washi paper is produced with the traditional paper filtering techniques. They had revived the craft so far as to be designated as a prefectural Important Intangible Cultural Property and in 1983.
Kami-Kawasaki washi paper is a traditional handicraft in Kami-kawasaki, Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture. It is designated as a prefecture’s Important Intangible Cultural Property.
The making of this paper dates back more than 1,000 years to the era reigned by Emperor Reizei (967-969). During the Heian period (794-1192), the paper from Kami-Kawasaki was highly valued by nobles as “the paper from the Deep North.” It is said that “Mayumi-gami,” which was praised by the famous female writers, Murasaki Shikibu and Seisho Nagon, was made in this town.
In the Edo period, the Niwa clan, the lord of the Nihonmatsu domain, promoted washi making and gave the town a license to produce paper, which led to the development of the present handmade washi paper industry.
Locally grown paper mulberry and tororo-aoi (the forming aid made from the roots of the tororo plant) are used as materials. Kami-Kawasaki washi paper has been made in the same processes and techniques of manufacture as was written in the Kamisuki Chohoki (the handbook of paper making) written in 1798.
The Hiwatari ritual is performed as a part of Tenjin Festival held on February 25 every year at Sugahara Shrine in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. The ritual has been performed to pray for prosperity and good health in the new year on the lunar calendar, which has begun at around the beginning of February. It marked the 30th anniversary in 2007.
In a Hiwatari ritual, mountain practitioners and worshippers walk through the burning fire to purify themselves and bring good luck. The Hiwatari ritual at Sugahara Shrine is one of the rare cases in that it is performed at a Shinto shrine, for Hiwatari is usually performed at Buddhist temples in Japan.
After the goma stage is purified with a sword and an arrow is shot in hope of the god’s guard, mountain practitioners throw torches into the huge goma stage built up of more than 10,000 wooden tablets inscribed with wishes. Then a set of purification rites are performed in front of the holy fire.
When the fire burns down and coals are flattened into a 3 square meter stretch, the mountain practitioners start to walk on the burning ashes. After that, general worshippers walk on the ashes.
Carefully walking on the burning ashes, fire walkers have a piece of paper called “Ashigatafu (footprint paper)” in their hands. After completing the toasty walk, they apply Japanese ink on the bottom of their foot and press it on the footprint paper. It is said that, if you put up your footprint talisman on the wall of your bedroom, your wish will be fulfilled.
Tozan washi paper is a traditional handicraft in Higashiyama, Ichinoseki City, Iwate Prefecture. There are several opinions as to its origin, but it is presumed to have started in the late Heian period, when the Fujiwara clan in Hiraizumi (in present-day Iwate Prefecture) was defeated by the forces of Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1189. Some of the Fujiwara’s warriors, who escaped from Hiraizumi, settled down in the area around Higashiyama and began to make paper as one of their daily commodities. In the city of Ichinoseki, there is a town named “Kamiagari,” which means a paper producing village in Kanji, from which this town is thought to be the birthplace of Tozan washi paper.
Only locally grown paper mulberry and Oriental paperbush are used as the materials. The original techniques have been precisely handed down to create high quality handmade washi paper, which is characterized by its natural color of paper mulberry, elegance, and durability. This simple-tasted paper is use for many purposes including Japanese sliding door paper, caligraphy, name cards and certificate paper. Tozan washi paper is a part of cultural heritage that was left by the Fujiwara clan of Hiraizumi.
Shiroishi washi paper is a traditional handicraft in Shiroishi City, Miyagi Prefecture. It is presumed that Shiroishi washi paper originates in “the paper from the Deep North,” which is referred to in Makura no Soshi (the Pillow Book) by Seisho Nagon and the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu as
“very soft, pure, elegant and graceful paper.”
Paper making in this area developed after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, when the town of Shiroishi became a part of the territory ruled by Date Masamune. One of the retainers of the Date clan, Kataoka Kojuro, encouraged local farmers to make paper as a side job during the winter. Since then many craftsmen who were specialized in filtering paper came to this town from the nearby areas. Even today, this elegant and pure washi paper is made by hand in the traditional way. As the paper with very high quality, it has been so highly valued as to be selected the paper used in Omizutori ceremony at Todaiji Temple and the paper for the Japanese Instrument of Surrender after World War II.