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Tru Vue Blog: Japan and the Paper-Lover's Dream

Tru Vue grant recipient Clara M. Prieto shared her experience of attending the International Course on Conservation of Japanese Paper in Tokyo

I am an independent conservator-restorer of Photographs and Art on paper. In addition to conservation treatment projects and research, I teach conservation-restoration in the Escuela Superior de Conservación y Restauración de Bienes Culturales  (ESCRBC) in Madrid, Spain.


The grant from Tru Vue helped me to attend the International Course on Conservation of Japanese Paper (JPC) 2016. This highly specialized course organized by the ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) in collaboration with the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo (NRICPT), has been offered in Japan annually since 1992.

This year, the course was held in Tokyo from 28th August to 16th September 2016, and brought together ten paper conservators from following countries: Belgium, Bhutan, Croatia, Egypt, Iceland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea and Spain.

This intensive three-week course gave the participants insight into the materials and techniques that make up Japanese works of art on paper and related paper conservation practices. It also gave insight into the materials and techniques of the Japanese papermaking and paper mounting tradition, as well as the philosophy and principles guiding the care of paper–based collections in Japan. The organization of the course combined lectures and practical work, during which participants were guided step by step throughout the whole process of making a hand scroll.

First week

During the first week of the course at the NRICPT in Tokyo we had lectures on “Paper conservation in Japan” and “Paper basics” by Mr. Masato Kato (Head of Resource and Systems Research Section, Japan Centre for International Cooperation in Conservation, NRICPT). These lectures provided participants with an introduction to the designation of cultural properties and intangible heritage and how they are protected by legislation in Japan. Mr. Kato spoke about the history of paper conservation in Japan and described how it is rooted in traditional mounting techniques that were used to produce hand scrolls, hanging scrolls, sliding doors and folding screens. He also gave a lecture on properties of Japanese paper.


A lecture “Adhesives used in the restoration of Japanese paintings”, by Ms. Noriko Hayakawa, (senior researcher at NRICPT) elaborated on the range of traditional starches such as aged wheat starch and fresh paste as well as seaweeds and animal glues.

The lecture “Brushes”, by father and son Shigemi and Kohei Tanaka, who are master brush makers, described in great detail the craftsmanship that goes into making traditional conservation brushes. Their work was a fine example of the importance the Japanese place on preserving intangible heritage, recognizing that without skilled craftsmen the whole conservation process could be affected.

Lectures were very clear, and the information was very well presented. Lectures were all in Japanese with English translation provided by Michiko Matsubara. Her work was beyond translation, as her deep knowledge and kindness enriched every sentence.

The practical sessions were provided by Senior Conservator Makoto Kawabata and Chief Conservator Atsushi Ogasawara, who efficiently guided the participants through the complex process of making a hand scroll. Each minimal aspect of the process was discussed, explained and demonstrated before each one of us carried out the work, assisted if needed by the instructors and junior members of the NRCIP staff.

Each technical step was accompanied by descriptions of all materials and tools involved, extending our knowledge on Japanese papers (washi), knives, brushes and other small hand-tools, enabling us to also discover traditional measures used in Japan. We also learned and carried out the preparation of nori (fresh wheat starch paste).

The practical work in the first week ranged from capillary washing of the main art work (honshi), to carrying out infill repairs of missing parts (insect holes) and applying a margin paper to the edges. After that, three subsequent linings were attached, using different papers and adhesives at each stage. The first lining of Usumino paper was attached with nori (fresh paste), and the second lining of two sheets of Misu paper (joined together by slightly overlapping the kuikashi edges) with furunori (aged wheat starch paste).

Before the third lining, at this point of the process it was necessary to apply orefuse, small strips of kozo paper, in order to support creases on the honshi. The final lining, of a paper composed of gampi and kozo, was adhered with furunori and the honshi was placed on a kari bari board to dry.


Second week: Study tour

The second week we were on the study tour, during which we visited paper related places in Nagoya, Mino and Kyoto, as well as outstanding Cultural Heritage sites.

In Nagoya we visited Nagoya castle and Astuta Jingu, a shrine originally founded about 1900 years ago, and had the chance to spend some time at Kami no Ondo, a paper-lover dream paper shop.

In Mino we had an opportunity to visit Minotakekami Kobo, a traditional paper making studio, were we were privileged to witness Ms. Toyomi Suzuky, one of the most important female masters in Japan making Tesuki Washi Kozo paper.

We then visited Mino-washi Museum, where we learned the history of washi, the techniques of making paper, and the regions for washi throughout Japan and we also had the chance to make Japanese kozo paper ourselves. We also visited the Former Imai Residence and Mino Archives.

In Kyoto we had a wonderful opportunity to visit Oka Bokkodo Co., Ltd., a traditional conservation studio situated in the heart of the city, where they hosted us on an interesting tour of their conservation facilities and methods. As the studio is situated in a traditional Japanese house with tatami floor mats, sliding doors, charming inner gardens and low working tables, it was extremely interesting to witness how very different Japanese conservation workshops are compared to those in the West.

Kanetaka Co., Ltd. is a traditional knives shop, where we witnessed the forging of metal alloy that gives its special quality to the knives they manufacture, and were able to purchase the finest quality conservation knives and scissors. After visiting Nijo Castle we were received in Mizokawa Shoten, a traditional material and tool shop where we were honored with a unique tea ceremony.

I feel deeply grateful to all hosts we had during this visits. It has been an honor to be so warmly welcomed and treated like special guests by these masters.

Third week

attaching_the_roller_end_knobs_with_nikawa_tnricp_iccrom_1.jpgBack at NRICPT in Tokyo, during the third week of the course, we learned the final processes of hand scroll mounting. We learned how to join the honshi to the tail border and cover paper, prepared and attached the hasso (the bamboo strip at the end of the scroll) and set the jiku, carving the wooden rod and attaching the roller end knobs with nikawa (animal glue). In the final steps we were challenged to cut the honshi, displaying proficiency on the use of a marubocho knife. Joining the cover and the honshi, attaching the jiku (roller rod) and the wrapping cord to the cover, and learning how to tie up the cord around the rolled hand scroll lead to a practical lesson on attention to detail of Japanese culture.

In the final presentation by Ms. Noriko Yamamoto (Executive Director, The Association for Conservation of National Treasures) was about the structure of hanging scrolls and folding screens – amazingly intricate in their construction. This session also focused on the safe handling of hanging scrolls and the use of the roller clamp and new modifications to aid in the preservation of these rolled items.

In the final week, we also had the opportunity to do some Japanese bookbinding.


repair_inscription_iva_gobic_1.jpgHands-on experience practicing alongside Japanese master conservators accompanied by lectures on the scientific research in this area, and study sessions at traditional paper-making centers, leading paper conservation studios, and museums in Japan was truly a unique experience and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to attend.

The quality and density of material presented at the course was unprecedented in my experience – every minute was meaningful. The organization of the entire course, in particular the practical sessions, was really remarkable. Thanks to this we have managed to do and learn so much within this three-week course, not only about the materials and techniques that make up Japanese works of art on paper, but also about the Japanese culture and their sensitive approach to conservation, their attitude to their work and the respect they have for the items in their care.

I am absolutely impressed with the attention to details, kindness and patience of our Japanese hosts.

Returning home

I have come back to Spain with much bigger respect for the materials and techniques we have used in Japan. Even though I have used Japanese materials and tools in my work before, and always marveled at their quality and expense, only after this course and learning accurate and complex procedures of their production do I understand and appreciate their true value.


Working alongside our Japanese hosts as well as the other international participants has been truly enriching professional and cultural experience.

The course has offered to all us participants a unique opportunity to learn about the Japanese paper tradition in a holistic way. Following the course, we are in a better position to make decisions concerning the care of Japanese artefacts, but also to implement the Japanese approach, materials, and techniques to Western paper conservation traditions.

I am sure that attending this course will influence my daily practice as a paper conservator in Spain as well as my teaching. Japanese extremely systematically and detailed way of teaching is truly inspirational.

Lead Image: Group in Nagoya ©​TNRICP
​​Image 1: The honshi. ©Clara M. Prieto.
​Image 2: Preparation of nori ©Iva Gobić
​​​​Image 3: Working on the honshi. ©TNRICP
Image 4: Group in Nagoya ©​TNRICP
Image 5: Attaching the roller end knobs with nikawa. ©TNRICP
​​Image 6: Repair inscription. ©Iva Gobić


The views expressed in these comments are the views of the individual and do not reflect the views of The Institute of Conservation. Any comments containing inappropriate language or copyright material will be removed.

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