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Trip to Masumi, Tokyo

It all started with this Instagram post by Steph Rue, a book artist and former Fulbright Junior Researcher. She visited Masumi, a conservation and restoration shop in Tokyo and posted a picture from her visit.

She had me at “Rows of beautiful silk textiles…”

That one post inspired our trek to Masumi on our third day in Tokyo (yes, I’m still on my third day).

Before leaving for Japan, I printed out a picture of the storefront, so I knew exactly what we were looking for. Except that we couldn’t find it. We wandered up and down several quiet, narrow streets, looking for a store that just didn’t seem to exist. Did I mention that we were using Google Maps (and had the address) at the time? Fail.

We were walking on one street for what must have been the third time when we passed a building that caught Chris’ eye. It did not look like my picture, but he said that he thought it was the place. To me, it looked like a residence with a long driveway. It definitely did not look like a business. Nevertheless, I agreed to take to take a look.

We walked toward the building and it was then that I noticed what looked like conservation-ish supplies in a glassed-in room. Hrm…maybe this was the place. I approached a man and told him that I was a bookbinder looking for supplies. He went inside and brought out another man who thankfully, spoke English. He told us that he’d take us over to the shop. Victory!

It turned out that our own personal Superman was none other than Yasushi Yokoo, owner of Masumi.

After an embarrassingly short walk, we were in front of the shop…and it looked just like my picture.

Exterior of Masumi, Tokyo

Holy crap, that place is fantastic!

In one part of the store was a small section packed with conservation tools and supplies. I am sooo kicking myself for not buying a whale bone folder that Yasushi showed to me. It was flexible and felt like plastic. At the very least, I should have taken a picture of it.

There were floor to ceiling wooden shelves containing dozens of types of handmade washi. Want.

Paper shelves at Masumi, Tokyo

Yasushi brought out several types of washi for me to look at, each one amazing for different reasons. One type of washi was no longer being made because no one had learned the papermaker’s methods before he passed – this paper’s tradition and history was basically lost. He said that this was all too common – the younger generation wasn’t interested in the “old way”.

He showed me the thinnest washi I’d ever seen. It was more delicate than onion skin – super floaty. It almost wasn’t there. I can’t believe that he let me touch it. I can still feel it between my fingers.

I also got to see paper that was made specifically for constructing traditional Japanese hanging scrolls. These sheets weren’t the same size as what I’m used to seeing – these were narrow and much longer. I can’t even imagine the size of the papermaking mold that was used to create it. The paper arrives packaged in a beautiful handmade paper wrapper – there’s just so much respect for this art in Japan.
Sheets of handmade paper at Masumi, Tokyo

One side of the store was lined with rolls of gorgeous silks and brocades. I didn’t get a shot of that wall (so many picture fails), but you can see some of the rolls in the upper right-hand corner of the photo above. You can also see some pictures of the fabrics on Masumi’s website. Fabric manufactured specifically for scroll work is called kireji.

I knew that paper-backed fabrics were used in the construction of scrolls, so I assumed that all of the rolls were essentially bookcloth. In reality, the majority of them were not paper-backed at all. Yasushi backs fabric by hand on an as-needed basis when he has to perform scroll work. He typically adds three layers of paper to the back of a piece of fabric. 

I learned that there’s more paste to meets the eye (or nose). For scroll work, Yasushi uses paste that is aged. I had never heard of this before. I found this article from the Journal of the Institute of Conservation that talks about it – it’s called furunori. This wheat starch paste is stored for a period of 8-10 years and as a result, it becomes more malleable. The softness of the paste helps to keep the scroll soft. I totally have a new respect for paste.

Yasushi told me a bit about his work, which includes commissions from a number of museums (several in the United States). He said that he could reproduce any design, on either paper or fabric, provided that he had a big enough sample to work from. He also crafts custom boxes and the rods (jikugi) used to roll/unroll scrolls from the bottom. He can basically do anything – he’s kinda magical.

He spoke about the value of tradition, of doing things the way they had always been done. You could trust it. Things lasted for so many years because they did it in a specific way and continued doing it that way. Why stop doing what works? He showed such love and compassion for his craft – it was very inspiring.

Here’s a picture I did get – it’s me and Mr. Nicest Guy Ever:
Yasushi Yokoo and Elissa Campbell

Towards the end of our visit, he told us that he was hosting an exhibit of cut paper art by Japanese artist Atsumi Yukihiro. Would we be interested in checking it out? Um, hell yeah!

We ascended the stairs, not knowing what to expect. We were not disappointed. Atsumi uses washi for all of her pieces and boy, is she good at it. We were told that she uses a super teeny knife – something like this X-Acto swivel knife.

I couldn’t avoid getting my reflection in the glass when I took these pictures – sorry about that.

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

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This piece simply blew my mind.

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

This piece incorporated cut magazine pages.

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

Cut paper art by Atsumi Yukihiro

When we finished viewing the exhibit, we went back downstairs and if you can believe it, the exhibiting artist arrived! I gushed like a total fan girl, telling her how wonderful her work was.

No paper was bought at Masumi, but I did get 2 meters of bookcloth. Check out this lovely pale bluish-green:

Roll of Japanese bookcloth

In a nutshell, our trip to Masumi was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Yasushi was just too good to be true. Our visit with him was definitely one of the highlights of our time spent in Japan.

If you’d like to check out the shop for yourself, here’s how to get there:

  • Address: 4-5-2 Sugamo, Toshima-ku Tokyo (Google Map)
  • Phone: 03-3918-5401
  • Public Transportation: 7 minute walk from Otsuka Station (Yamanote Line)

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 20

6 Responses to “Trip to Masumi, Tokyo”

By daria wilber - 23 July 2016 Reply

Elissa, All I can say is oh my God. What an amazing place and the paper cuts are magnificent! Brava chica! daria

By Elissa - 24 July 2016 Reply

Daria –

Seriously. I could just go on and on about that place.

Elissa

By Ellen - 24 July 2016 Reply

That was one of the best bits of paper porn I’ve read and seen in a while. Thank you for sharing your amazing visit!

By Elissa - 24 July 2016 Reply

Ellen –

Whoa, that’s high praise – thanks!

I only wish I had taken more (and better) pictures. I just got so drawn into the experience that it didn’t occur to me at the time. It was just so wonderful.

Elissa

By marcia - 24 July 2016 Reply

Oh. My. God. That is the most amazing experience ever. There should be a video of that day!

By seley1 - 24 July 2016 Reply

I am so jealous of your trip! What a fabulous experience. Your writing is so engaging.

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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