Category : Japan

MUSUBU: Tokyo: California: Urawa

I recently found out via the Book Arts Listserv (thanks to Jody Alexander) that there’s a collaborative book arts exhibit involving the San Francisco Bay Area and Tokyo. The exhibit will be at the Urawa Art Museum, Urawa-ku, Saitama, Japan and runs from September 12 -24, 2017. The exhibit will eventually travel to the United States in April/May 2018, landing at the American Bookbinders Museum in San Francisco.

Musubu logo - book arts exhibit

This ambitious project was co-curated by Hisako Nakazawa (a founding member of the Tokyo Bookbinding Club), Jody Alexander, Keiko Fujii, and Akiko Takiguchi (curator at the Urawa Art Museum). It took more than three years to pull it all together – considering that this was a cross-continental undertaking, this isn’t surprising.

The exhibit, MUSUBU: Tokyo: California: Urawa, includes the work of  24 members of the Tokyo Bookbinding Club and 21 book artists that have connections to the San Francisco Bay Area. The Japanese word musubu means to tie, connect, or be bound by love or friendship. The use of this word in the title of the exhibit is perfect, as the project brought together two very strong book arts communities.

Here are the talented artists participating in the exhibit:

San Francisco Bay Area Artists:
Jody Alexander, Rhiannon Alpers, Elizabeth Boyne, Macy Chadwick, Lucy Childs, Marie Dern, Casey Gardner, Alisa Golden, Jennie Hinchcliff, Charles Hobson, Lisa Kokin, Bryan Kring, Hedi Kyle, Howard Munson, Hisako Nakazawa, Penny Nii, Felicia Rice, Judith Serebrin, Larry Van Velzer and Peggy Gotthold of Foolscap Press, Katherine Venturelli, and Kenneth Wilkes.

Tokyo Bookbinding Club Artists:
Yoko Bato, Keiko Fujii, Michiko Fujita, Sinki Fukuda, Mari Hatano, Fumiko Ichida, Masumi Inayama, Junko Inque, Hisako Kawashima, Rie Kondo, Yukari Kunii, Ikuko Nakajima, Hiroko Nakano, Amu Nakao, Eiko Nakao, Kunie Ogoshi, Maki Sato, Katsuyuko Sawada, Ariko Shibata, Keiko Suzuki, Yoko Taguchi, Hiroe Takahashi, Akiko Tsumura, and Maya Yamashita.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I love love love Japan so much. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to visit the country last year. Checking out this exhibit would be the perfect reason to go back. It couldn’t be that hard to travel to Japan with a 3-month-old baby, right?

To learn more about the exhibit, check out Jody’s blog post.

And if you’re planning on going to the exhibit in person, here’s how to get there:

  • Address: 2-Chome, Nakacho, Urawa-ku of zip 330-0062 Saitama City, 5th number 1 Urawa Century City, the 3rd floor (Google Map)
  • Phone: 048-827-3215
  • Public Transportation: 7 minute walk from JR Urawa Station (West Exit); 8 minute walk from Omiya Station; 20 minute walk from Ueno Station; 25 minute walk from Shinjuku Station

Note: Many thanks to Jody Alexander for granting me permission to use her images.

Gocco Manhoru

I recently crossed something off my Book Arts Bucket List – I completed my first Gocco edition! We’re just going to ignore the fact that I’ve had my Gocco since 2008.

So what motivated the project? The Book Arts Guild of Vermont is in the midst of hosting a challenge where participants create an edition of prints, exchange them, and then create a book incorporating the full set of prints. The book has to be completed by May – I’m so thankful that I have two months to get that done.

Since I still seem to be in my post-Japan bliss, I decided to use my trip as inspiration for my print. During my trip, I discovered so many things that added to its unending charm. Among them – manhole covers (a.k.a. manhoru). Yes, this is totally a thing.

Each municipality in Japan has its own manhole cover design, with different colors, patterns, and themes. According to an article on deMilked, the practice started in an effort to promote the importance of funding sewage projects. Estimates have the number of different manhoru at about 6,000. According to an article on Colossal, the most popular design is trees, followed by landscapes, flowers, and birds.

I really wish I had noticed them sooner, although if I had, I probably would have spent all of my time looking at the ground instead of what was in front of me.

So, now that I’ve given you a lengthy introduction, here’s the Tokyo manhole cover that inspired my edition:

Manhole cover in Tokyo, Japan

I monkeyed with the image in Photoshop until I was able to reduce it to a black and white image. It took a really.long.time. Swearing happened.

Here’s the final image:

Rendering of Japanese manhole cover

As you can see, I took some creative license and eliminated the holes and the writing on the left side. I wanted a uniform image.

Screen burning time! I printed out the image using my laser printer and burned a Gocco screen. Next, I surrounded my image with ink block to help keep the ink from spreading.

Gocco screen with ink block

Ink mixing time! I wanted a dirty bronze color, which required five different inks to achieve.

Mixing Gocco ink

Inking time! Next, I applied the ink to the burned screen…

Inked Gocco screen with ink block

…and slid the screen into my Gocco.

Gocco printing in progress

Printing time! Next thing I know, there were these:

Gocco prints on drying racks

Something weird happened during printing, which caused a very minor smudgy thing. You probably can’t even see it, but I can. Don’t ask me to tell you what I’m talking about because my lips are sealed.

I am thrilled with the results! Due to my total lack of creativity in naming, I settled on naming the edition Manhole.

Gocco print of Japanese manhole cover by Elissa Campbell

Next mission – the swapped book of prints. I’ll be writing about that project when it gets going.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Japanese manhole covers, you’ve got a few options:

  • Check out the book Drainspotting by Remo Camerota
  • View the more than 1,500 photos by S. Morita, THE go-to dude for images of manhoru
  • Visit the website for the Japan Manhole Cover Society (Note: The website is in Japanese and looks sketchy, but it’s totally legit. If you click on the links, you’ll be taken to images of manhole covers, along with information about their locations.)

And lastly, be sure to read book artist Louise Levergneux blog posts about her fascination with manhole covers (she calls them city shields). Her work isn’t just limited to Japan, but has a worldwide focus.

Peace Kannon

I recently completed a book as part of the monthly bookbinding challenge on Instagram called Are You Book Enough? Each month, a theme is chosen and participants create a book incorporating that theme. Bookbinders are encouraged to share their process and final books on Instagram using the tag #areyoubookenough. February’s theme was peace.

It didn’t take long for me to find inspiration. Shocker – it was my trip to Japan.

While staying in Yudanaka, my husband and I wanted to buy cherries before leaving our ryokan. The owner generously offered us a ride. After visiting a farmers market, he surprised us by dropping us off at the Heiwa Kannon Statue of World Peace in DaihiDen Temple.

It is said that the statue has the power to grant one a peaceful life. Inside the inner base of the statue are 33 small golden statues – if you pray at all of the statues, it is as if you have visited and prayed at 33 Japanese temples.

Outside of the temple is a large bell that you ring for world peace and the sound can be heard throughout the town. I rang the bell. It was loud.

Something else I found at the temple were strings of knotted fortunes written on strips of paper called O-mikuji. You can get these fortunes at shrines and temples throughout Japan.

If you get a good fortune, the tradition is to take it home with you and carry it in your wallet – this is to keep the good luck close to you. If your fortune is bad, the custom is to fold it up and tie it to a pine tree, or to designated wires or strings. The belief is that by doing so, you can tie your fortune to that location and delay your bad luck.

O-mikuji near the Heiwa Kannon Statue of World Peace in Yudanaka, Japan

Now that you’ve seen what inspired me, I’ll show you my process. Thankfully, making the book was not nearly as complicated as my last book.

For the cover, I monkeyed with a photo of the bell in Photoshop to simplify it. I printed out the edited image on paper and then glued it to a piece of bookboard.

Gluing flag book covers

The reason why I put the image down first was due to an interesting discovery I made – the bookcloth I purchased at Masumi (Tokyo) was sheerer than I had anticipated. When I glued the bookcloth over a printed image, the image would show through. I loved the effect – very subtle.

Flag book covers

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that this was a flag book. The plan was to use O-mikuji for my flags.

Flag book covers and spine

When I was in Kyoto at Kinkaku-ji Temple, I had the opportunity to get my own O-mikuji from a vending machine. I half-expected it to come out in one of those clear plastic ball thingies. It didn’t. Thankfully, I received an “excellent” fortune.

O-mikuji vending machine in Kyoto, Japan

Here’s what it looked like:



I searched online for images of bad fortunes so the text in my O-mikuji would be as authentic as possible. I also thought about what personal fortunes I’d like to leave behind to gain inner peace and added in those messages. After gathering twelve different fortunes, I got to work. 

I taped a thin sheet of Unryu to an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper so I could feed it through my laser printer. It worked like a charm.

Printing O-mikuji

Printed and trimmed O-mikuji

After trimming the fortunes, I folded them up and tied them into knots, as if I were tying them to a tree or string at a shrine. 


After that, I glued them into the book and I was done!

Here’s the finished book – Peace Kannon:

Flag book cover

Back of flag book covers

Flag book with O-mikuji

Flag book with O-mikuji

Flag book with O-mikuji

As this copy of Peace Kannon has deep personal significance for me, it’s not available for purchase. However, I’d love to create a copy of this book just for you!

You can give me up to 12 bad fortunes that you’d like to give away and I’ll create custom O-mikuji for your book’s flags, making your piece one-of-a-kind. Or for a more personalized experience, you can come to my studio in Montpelier to participate in the creation of your book. You’ll fold your own custom O-mikuji and then attach them to the spine of the book – this is intended to replicate the Japanese tradition of attaching O-mikuji to a tree or string.

For more information and/or pricing, please feel free to contact me.

Many thanks to Whitney Aldrich at Axel’s Gallery & Frame Shop for suggesting this idea.

The Awesomeness of Goshuinchou

Something I discovered during my trip to Japan was an awesome book-related dealie known as goshuincho. It’s kinda like the U.S.’s National Park Passport Program, but for Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

A goshuincho is a book used to record visits to temples and/or shrines. It’s proof that you’ve made a sacred pilgrimage and it documents your respect and devotion. The word goshuincho translates to honorable stamp or seal book. The goshuincho is used to collect shuin, a collection of bright red stamps and gorgeous sweeping calligraphy. Each location has a different shuin, including the design of the stamps, the style of the calligraphy, and the layout of the page. 

It all starts with an accordion-style book that you can purchase at most shrines and temples throughout Japan. They’re also sold at stationery stores and gift shops. You can expect to spend around ¥800 – ¥1,500 ($7.00 – $13.00). The standard size for a book is 11 cm × 16 cm (4.33″ x 6.3″), which is nice and portable. One book can hold approximately 20 – 30 stamps.

You take your book to a designated area where a monk or priest will work on it while you wait. At busier temples or shrines, you might have to leave your book with an attendant – they’ll give you a ticket for retrieving it later. There’s requested donation of around ¥300 – ¥500 ($3.00 – $5.00) for the shuin.

I received three shuin during my trip. I would have had more had I discovered the goshuincho sooner.

The first was from Ginkaku-ji Temple (a.k.a. Silver Pavilion).

Shuin from Ginkaku-ji Temple

Along with my stamp, I received a piece of paper that explained what the different parts were.

Map of shuin from Ginkaku-ji Temple

My second shuin was from Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion).

Shuin from Kinkaku-ji Temple

It was here that I learned an embarrassing lesson about the proper way to collect shuin.

During my trip, I had a journal with me with pages that were almost exactly the same size as the goshuincho pages – I decided that I preferred to have the stamps in my own journal (rather than buying another book) so that everything was in one place.

When I handed over my journal over at Kinkaku-ji Temple, a woman held up a sign saying that she wouldn’t write it in my notebook because this was a sacred act. She did, however, write the calligraphy on a separate piece of paper for me. This was confusing to me at the time. I hadn’t had any trouble at the last temple I visited. The cynic in me was convinced that they just wanted me to buy a book from the gift shop.

When I got home from my trip, I learned that when collecting stamps, using a “common” notebook instead of a goshuincho is not okay. I wish I could go back in time and redo that experience (and I need to work on my cynicism). It was never my intention to show disrespect.

The last shuin was from Ryoan-ji Temple.

Shuin from Ryoan-ji Temple

They also gave me a shuin map.

Map of shuin from Ryoan-ji Temple

If you’re planning a trip to Japan and goshuincho seems like your thing, you can order a proper book in advance from Holly Hock. Don’t embarrass yourself like I did.

Planning a trip to Japan and want to learn more (or maybe you’re just curious)? Check out these websites for additional information and images of other shuin:

Trip to Ryozo Paper, Echizen

My trip to Echizen almost ended in paper tragedy – at first, we were unable to get into a papermaking studio.

When we arrived at Papyrus House, we were given a map that listed a number of studios. When I asked which studio they recommended for a visit, we were told that the studios were closed because everyone was working.

We were baffled. Why list studios on a map if they weren’t open to the public? Then the realization sunk in – I traveled to Japan and wouldn’t be able to visit any studios. I was not happy.

The hubby and I called up our host and asked for help. He hopped in his car and zipped on over. He looked at the map and whipped out his phone. Within five minutes, we were on our bikes heading towards the Ryozo Paper studio.

We arrived at a nondescript building in what looked like a residential neighborhood.

Ryozo papermaking facility

I wasn’t sure that we were in the right place until I saw a small sign with a piece of handmade paper on it. Confirmed.

Sign on front of the Ryozo papermaking facility

We entered the studio and were warmly greeted by the studio’s owner, Ryozo Yanase. The studio was not at all like I was expecting – it was quite an operation.

On the sides of the room, there were three women at separate vats pulling sheets of paper. The screens were attached to ropes that hung from the ceiling, which I assume helps to relieve some of the weight when pulling sheets.

Woman creating sheet of handmade paper in Japan at Ryozo paper

Two of the women created solid base sheets. After a sheet had been formed, the screen was carried over to a slow-moving conveyor belt and the sheet was transferred to it.

Woman transferring sheet of handmade paper to a conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

The third woman made paper on what looked like a silk screen with a floral pattern. She’d scoop up pulp with the screen and the pulp would settle wherever the pattern was located. Where the screen was solid, the watery pulp would just wash off the screen. The result was more like small, individual pieces of paper than a sheet – the flowers weren’t connected in any way.

The artisan laid her work on top of each base sheet that traveled down the conveyor belt.

Woman transferring sheet of handmade paper to a conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

Handmade sheet of paper on conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

At the end of the conveyor belt, the sheet would get pulled under a ginormous metal roller. The water would get squeezed out of the sheet and it would get super flat.

Handmade sheet of paper on conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

The sheet would stick to the roller when it came out the other side and it was carried up to man on a platform near the top of the roller. He’d peel off the sheets and add them to an ever-growing pile.

Man pulling sheet of paper off giant metal roller at Ryozo paper

Wait, why am I explaining all of this in words when I can just show you the video I took? Warning: This is hypnotizing.

After breaking from the spell of watching paper being made, I took some time to look around the studio. Sheets of paper hung from the ceiling and in front of windows. It was lovely.

Sheet of handmade paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging in front of a window at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging in front of a window at Ryozo paper

The wood supports (keta) for the screens (su) were also hung from the ceiling. The keta is a double-hinged frame made of Japanese cypress that holds the screen when a sheet is pulled.

Keta (part of the sugeta) hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Thank goodness for technology! We were able to communicate with the artist by using Google Translate on our phone. He used his iPad to do the same. I usually feel like technology creates distance between people, but in this case, it definitely brought us together.

He said that he’d been making paper for 25 years and that they produce 800 sheets of paper each day. There were buckets of pulp everywhere.

Plastic buckets full of red paper pulp

Plastic buckets full of purple and mixed paper pulp

There were buckets of wet hibiscus root (neri), a gooey substance that’s added to pulp to aid with fiber dispersion. It also helps slow down water drainage during the sheet forming process, which gives the maker more time to form an even sheet.

Plastic bucket with hibiscus root

At the end of our visit, we gave Yanase a gift of maple candy and thanked him for his hospitality. He returned the gesture by giving me a lovely sheet of lace paper – totally unexpected. The paper is so dreamy

The pattern is called uzumaki, which is the Japanese word for spiral. It measures 23.875″ x 35.75″ (grain short).

Handmade lace paper by Ryozo paper

Handmade lace paper by Ryozo paper


If you’re interested in checking out the facility for yourself, here are the details:

  • Address: 10-1 Otaki cho, Echizen-shi, Fukui Prefecture (Google Map)
  • Phone: 0778-42-1155 (I highly recommend that you call them in advance. Don’t wing it like I did.)
  • Public transportation: Take a train to JR Takefu Station. After exiting the train, you’ll see the bus stop (sheltered area). Take the Fuku-Tetsu bus for the Nanetsu line (heading towards Akasaka) – it’s about a 20 minute ride. Get off at the Washi-no-Sato stop. Assuming that you’re now at Papyrus House, you’ve got a 10 minute walk to get to Ryozo Paper. Here’s a Google Map that can help get you there.

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 44 (although I did get a sheet of paper at Ryozo, I didn’t buy it so it doesn’t count)

Trip to Papyrus House, Echizen

We started our Echizen paper journey at Papyrus House. It’s kind of a mush of an information center, store, workshop space, and exhibit hall. The building exterior is nondescript and doesn’t come close to indicating what’s inside. You could just walk right by it and never realize it was there.

Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

But holy crap – the interior. Just inside the entrance was this fantastic wall piece composed of folded origami cranes.

Origami artwork at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Artwork composed of origami cranes at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

And then there were these insane pieces hanging from the ceiling – all of them included tons of origami pieces.

Folded paper sculptures at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Folded paper sculptures at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

There was a display that showed the papermaking process and all of the little figures were made of paper.

Papermaking display at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Papermaking display at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

If you feel inspired to create while at Papyrus House, you’re in luck – they’ve got a studio where you can take a quick papermaking workshop.

And if you feel inspired to shop, you’re also in luck – Washidokoro Echizen offers a wide variety of products (fans, books, cards), all made from Japanese paper. 

Gift shop at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Yep – they also sell sheets of paper, many of which were made locally. So.much.paper.

Paper shelves at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Paper shelves at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Most of the rolled paper you see in the image below cost just ¥100 (less than $1.00 USD)! This is the part where you picture me doing a happy dance.

Rolls of paper at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

So some shopping happened.

This sheet of Chiyogami with Samurai dudes was just too fabulous to pass up. It measures 28.25″ x 25.5″ (grain short).

Chiyogami paper with Samurai
Next I selected a few machine-made sheets with different designs. These papers don’t look printed. They seem to have two layers – the bottom sheet is a solid color, while the top sheet is a patterned, light color. I think that the pattern in the top layer is created like a watermark. All of the sheets measure 21.625″ x 31.5″ (grain long).

Machine-made Japanese paper with pink flowers

Machine-made Japanese paper with yellow flowers

Machine-made Japanese paper with blue flowers

The next paper was another machine-made sheet. It’s soft and has a crinkled texture. I’m pretty sure that this sheet is also made from two layers of paper. It measures 21.875″ x 31.5″ (grain long)

Japanese machine-made crinkled paper with peach and cream circles

The next two papers are machine-made and have lovely shiny fibers floating on the surface. This yellow sheet measures 21.875″ x 31.875″ (grain long).

Yellow Japanese machine-made paper with stripes and fibers

Interestingly, the purple sheet isn’t the same size – it measures 21.625″ x 31.75″ (grain long).

Purple Japanese machine-made paper with stripes and fibersThis next sheet is probably my favorite from today – it’s a handmade wood-grained lace paper. It is simply gorgeous – thin, delicate, and floaty. It measures 23.875″ x 35.75″ (grain short).

If you’d like to see how it’s made, check out Awigami Factory’s video. The process is really fascinating.

Japanese wood-grained tissue paper

Japanese wood-grained tissue paper

The next two papers are machine-made papers. They’re crinkled and reversible, which is awesome. Both sheets measure 31″ x 21.625″ (grain long).

Blue and orange reversible Japanese machine-made crinkled paper

Purple and yellow reversible Japanese machine-made crinkled paper

Then came two more crinkled sheets, but each has the same color on both sides.. The brown sheet measures 21.75″ x 32.125″ (grain long). It’s kinda chocolaty.
Brown Japanese crinkled paper

The purple sheet measures 22″ x 31.5″ (grain long).

Purple Japanese solid crinkled paperThe next two sheets are also machine-made, crinkled, and reversible. I love the crisscross pattern of the lines. The patterned side of the paper also has little iridescent flecks on it. Both sheets measure 21.625″ x 31.75″ (grain long).

Green reversible Japanese machine-made crinkled paper with lines

Blue reversible Japanese machine-made crinkled paper with lines

And the last sheet of the day – a brown Katazome paper, screen-printed with assorted symbols. It measures 24.875″ x 38″ (grain short).

Brown Japanese screen printed paper with symbols

If you’d like to check out the place for yourself, here’s the scoop:

  • Address: 8-44 Shinzaike-cho, Echizen City, Fukui (Google Map)
  • Phone: 0778-42-1363
  • Public Transportation: Take a train to JR Takefu Station. After exiting the train, you’ll see the bus stop (sheltered area). Take the Fuku-Tetsu bus for the Nanetsu line (heading towards Akasaka) – it’s about a 20 minute ride. Get off at the Washi-no-Sato stop. Click here to access a map of the area.

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 44

The awesomeness of Echizen

I’m just going to say it – I love Echizen.

View of Echizen, Japan

Yet it has been really hard for me to write this post. I think it’s because the place is just beyond words. Visiting this papermaking village (Washi no Sato) was the absolute highlight of my trip to Japan. 

When I think of my time there, I get overwhelmed by warm fuzzies and my brain turns to mush. And then I get sad. I wonder if I’ll ever get to go back there. I feel a loss for having not having been there longer. I long for the warmth and kindness of the people I met there.

I first became aware of Echizen back in the early 90’s when I worked at Paper Source (back when they actually sold paper). The store carried a variety of papers from the area, but at the time, I didn’t understand that Echizen was a place. I might have thought that it was a brand name (embarrassing). It was later on that I realized that it was an actual location in Japan.

When I started doing research for our trip to Japan and rediscovered Echizen, I knew in my gut that I had to go there. The official village website offers the following as an introduction to the area:

There are now about 70 factories that use either handmade, industrial, or processing methods, with about 500 people working in Washi related jobs in the Imadate area “Goka”.


Goka” is called by five villages of the town, Oizu, Iwamoto, Shinzaike, Sadatomo and Otaki, in all together. This area have been producing Japanese paper since 6th century and constitute “Echizen Washi no Sato”.


There used to be lots of paper villages every where in Japan, but it is very unusual to see an area like Echizen only making paper through all the year, whereas the others used to make paper only in winter when they didn’t produce rice. As a result, Echizen is one of the largest handmade paper industries in Japan along with Tosa in Kochi and Mino in Gifu Prefectures. 

Echizen, Japan

It amazes me that Echizen played such a vital role in the history of Japanese paper. Its reputation as the producer of fine, high quality paper is well-deserved. Echizen washi was used for printing both the first paper currency in Japan and official court documents. It is believed that Rembrandt used Echizen washi for his etchings.

According to The Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, the area has 26 government recognized Master Craftsmen. On top of that, a number of artisans in Echizen have been certified as Living National Treasures.

So yeah, the place is fantastic.

Aside from papermakers, the village offers several paper-related destinations:

We were lucky enough to be able to visit each of these places, except for the Paper and Culture Museum (me = sad). I’ll share those experiences in future blog posts.

Everywhere you go in Echizen, you can see the influence of paper on the community. We had lunch at a restaurant and handmade paper was all over the place.

Handmade paper wall hanging

Handmade paper wall hanging

Suminagashi and lace paper under glass

And the postal service in Echizen is in on the paper fun too. If you go to the Okamoto post office and ask for fukei-in, the postmaster will hand stamp your letter with a special postmark – it includes an image of the Okamoto Otaki Shrine and a woman making paper. I’m still kicking myself for not sending myself a postcard.

We were lucky enough to have access to bicycles during our stay, so it was easy for us to get around.

Elissa Campbell on a bicycle in Echizen

Yep, I rode around with my paper tube on my back. Getting paper home safely was a priority!

As we rode our bikes, we became more and more aware of what was going on inside the buildings we passed. Sometimes we’d hear the whirring of machinery coming from a building that looked like a residence. Other times things were out in the open.

Paper warehouse

Paper warehouse

Paper warehouse

I know that we didn’t even scratch the surface of what there is to learn about Echizen and its rich papermaking history. If I ever return to Japan (fingers crossed), I’d love to go back there.

I’d like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to photographer Katz Hata, our Echizen host and guide. He was beyond awesome. It was embarrassing just how many times we got lost and he came to our rescue (FYI – Google Maps is not much help in this part of Japan). Without him, we wouldn’t have had such a rich experience.

So, now you want to visit Echizen, right? Go – you won’t regret it.

Here’s the scoop:

  • Address: Google Map
  • Phone: 0778-24-0655 (tourist information about Echizen)
  • Public Transportation: Take a train to JR Takefu Station. After exiting the train, you’ll see the bus stop (sheltered area). Take the Fuku-Tetsu bus for the Nanetsu line (heading towards Akasaka) – it’s about a 20 minute ride. Get off at the Washi-no-Sato stop.

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 29 (trust me, that number’s going up)

T.W. Wood Art Camp

I was honored to be asked to speak to the campers at the T.W. Wood Art Camp yesterday. The camp is held every year at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT and lasts for two weeks.

This was my second visit to the camp – I talked to the campers about my work back in 2011.

T.W. Wood Art Camp sign

My visit had two purposes – to talk about my work in the book arts and discuss my recent trip to Japan. I brought a selection of books to share, including artist’s books and models of Japanese bindings. I also brought several sheets of paper that I purchased in Japan – my intention was to teach them about washi and its creative applications (Chiyogami, Shibori, Katazome-shi, etc.).

I set up my display and waited for the kids to arrive…

Display of handmade books and paper at T.W. Wood Art Camp

Display of handmade books and paper at T.W. Wood Art Camp

…and then they were there!

I really value the opportunity to educate others about the book arts and to me, it’s especially meaningful to talk to children. It’s so important for them to understand the value of the arts and I appreciate that I get to play a small part in that learning experience.

I started by talking about the first book I ever made when I was in the 2nd grade – The Dog Who Couldn’t Bark. I’m not sure why, but the kids latched on to the story and kept asking if I would read the book to them. At the end of my talk, I held an impromptu story time.

Elissa Campbell talking about handmade books at T.W. Wood Art Camp

The kids asked lots of questions, which I loved. They just don’t hold back, like adults often do. I invited the kids to come up to my display and get a closer look at my work. They quickly swarmed around me and the table – it was a total mob scene, but in a good way.

When they left, here’s what was left of my display:

Display of handmade books and paper at T.W. Wood Art Camp

It may not look like it, but the kids were very respectful of my work when handling it.

Many thanks to the very awesome Martha Fitch for inviting me to speak. Not only is she the T.W. Wood Art Camp Director, but she’s also the Executive Director of the Vermont Crafts Council. The woman is a rock star.

Book and Bed Tokyo

One of the many things I love about Japan is how it skillfully blends the traditional, the modern, and the whimsical. When I researched lodging options in Japan, I decided that I’d do my best to find a range of places to stay that touched on all of these qualities.

When I discovered Book and Bed Tokyo, I knew that it just had to happen.

From their website:

Book And Bed is “an accommodation bookshop”. The perfect setting for a good nights sleep is something you will not find here. There are no comfortable mattresses, fluffy pillows nor lightweight and warm down duvets. What we do offer is an experience while reading a book (or comic book).

Screw a restful night’s sleep – I’m going to Book and Bed Tokyo!

The hostel is tucked away on the 7th floor of the building. After exiting the elevator, we were deposited into a wicked small check-in room. Even though we saw the door shown below, we somehow weren’t convinced that we were in the right place. 

Entry at Book and Bed Tokyo

Obviously, we were in the right place. After ringing the bell, someone opened the door to assist us.

Please note that if you arrive before the established check-in time (4:00 p.m.) as we did, they won’t let you inside. They will, however, let you leave your bags while you’re out and about (this was much appreciated). After dinner, we returned to the hostel to retire for the evening. We were in!

Check out this awesomeness:

Book and Bed Tokyo

One side of the room is lined with a massive bookcase. Those ladders you see are for accessing the top bunks, which are behind the bookshelves. Oh yes, we slept in the bookcase.

If you’re a couple, you have to split up – one person to a bed, please. They were kind enough to situate us in the same area – I had the top bunk and Chris slept below.

Book and Bed Tokyo

Here’s what the bed looks like:

Bed at Book and Bed Tokyo

As they admitted, there was no lush bedding here. But that’s not the point. The point is that you’re sleeping in a bookcase.

They had a really cool light fixture made of books (sorry for the quality of the photo – the room was on the dark side).

Light fixture at Book and Bed Tokyo

The hostel is less than one year old, having opened in November of 2015. It was designed by Makoto Tanijiri and Ai Yoshida of Suppose Design Office. As of their opening date, the bookcases contained approximately 1,700 books (in both Japanese and English) that had been supplied by Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers. I imagine that the book count is higher now.

Before going to sleep, we made a point of spending time on the couches, reading whatever caught our fancy. I found a book that was a guide to doing everything (I can’t remember the title) and funny enough, it had a section on bookbinding. I just can’t escape this stuff.

I can’t say I had a restful night’s sleep – it was a Princess and the Pea thing, but with a futon. But I don’t care. And why? Because I got to sleep in a bookcase.

When you leave, the exit offers you a sweet send-off:

The current nightly rate for a bookshelf bed at Book and Bed Tokyo varies depending on when you stay – we paid about $44.50 per night, per bunk (including taxes). If you’d like to save some money, you can stay in the “bunk room”, which offers basic capsule accommodations without a bookcase. But seriously, the whole point is to sleep in a bookcase.

This video offers a quick tour of the place:

If you’d like to check out Book and Bed Tokyo for yourself, here’s how to get there:

  • Address: 1-17-7, Lumiere building 7th floor, Nishi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo (Google Map)
  • Phone: 03-6914-2914
  • Public Transportation: 5 minute walk from Ikebukuro Station (West Exit)

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 29

Trip to Isetatsu, Tokyo

Isetatsu was our last paper-related stop in Tokyo, which was good because day three was so.very.long. And I’m pretty sure that my husband was over it. We found the petite shop nestled on a small street – if you didn’t know it was there, you would totally walk by it.

Exterior of Isetatsu, Tokyo

I wanted to know more about Isetatsu, so I got my Nancy Drew on. I discovered that it was established during the Edo period, approximately 150 years ago (wowza). The owners are fifth generation printmakers and they are the only folks still making Edo-style Chiyogami, which is woodblock-printed.

Before today, I’m not sure if I knew that Chiyogami papers were originally block printed. Chiyogami, as I knew it, was screen printed. World = rocked.

The papers in the store were really beautiful and I had never seen ones like these before. I found a section of the store that had smaller sheets and I just fell in love with them. The sign by these papers said that they were machine-printed, but they didn’t look that way. After some back and forth communication with the sales clerk (with translation help from both of our devices), we simultaneously realized that the machine in question was a letterpress. 

I’ve never considered a letterpress as a machine. I’ve always seen it as a mechanical extension of the artist’s hand. Is that weird?

After some deliberation, I picked nine sheets to take home with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but all of those papers were created by the artists at Isetatsu. I came to that conclusion after I found this book: Isetatsu Collection: Traditional Patterns on Japanese Wood-Print Paper by Kaori Saito (ISBN: 4894447703). The book includes images of papers that are among the ones I purchased.

The colors are really vibrant and I love the patterns. The base paper doesn’t feel like any washi I’ve encountered, it’s really smooth. The sheets all measure 10.625″ x 15.5″ (grain long). This size is known as oonishiki-han (27 cm x 38 cm) and is the most common size of Chiyogami.

Blue letterpressed paper with flowers

Pink letterpressed paper with pink flowers and folded cranes

Peach letterpressed paper with red flowers

Green letterpressed paper with white flowers and polka dots

Red letterpressed paper with silver flowers

Blue letterpressed paper with white and yellow flowers

Purple letterpressed paper with white and pink flowers

Green letterpressed paper with flowers

Orange letterpressed paper with flowers

Each sheet has text on its edge – I’m wondering if it establishes Isetatsu as the maker and/or identifies the design.

Orange letterpressed paper with flowers with Japanese writing on the edge

Unfortunately, the sales clerk wouldn’t let me take pictures inside the store (I always ask first). Flickr to the rescue! Check out these pictures by hanakisoi to see the inside of Isetatsu:

To learn more about Isetatsu, read this article from The Japan Times by Yuko Naito: Block-printed Paper Beauty.

If you’re itching to see the shop for yourself, here’s how to get there:

  • Address: 2-18-9 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo (Google Map)
  • Phone: 03-3823-1453
  • Public Transportation: Sendagi Station (Chiyoda line), exit 1

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 29

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