Coming Soon to Kickstarter: Kyo Karakami


1,000 years ago, elite courtesans in Kyoto used to write poetry and letters to one another. However, they didn’t use any old paper; they favored a luxurious type of paper called “karakami,” which featured beautiful printed designs.

One of the karakami printing blocks offered in this project

Maruni, a company in Kyoto, has worked to carry on the ancient tradition of karakami printing to this day, and hopes that it will continue on into the future for many more generations to come.

For this Kickstarter campaign, Maruni is making a new collection of Kyo karakami printing kits that will enable people around the world to learn about karakami and make it themselves.

Please support the project on Kickstarter to help Maruni reach its goal and turn their concept into a reality!

We need folks to become early backers to boost the momentum of the project early on, so we will be offering a 20% discount for those who back in the first 3 days. Sign up with your email below to get a notification as soon as the project launches so you can get a discount when you back!

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What is Karakami?

“Karakami” is a type of decorative paper made with a unique printing technique that was introduced to Japan from China more than 1,00 years ago. At the time, Kyoto was the capital and cultural center of Japan, so the first domestically-produced karakami (called Kyo-karakami) was made here.

At first, it was a rare luxury item only available to the wealthiest aristocrats in society who would use it to write poems and letters. Later, it was used for interior decoration, especially for “fusuma,” Japanese sliding doors. 

 In the Edo period, karakami finally became affordable enough for commoners to purchase it, and karakami sliding doors became a standard part of most Japanese homes. 

Today, karakami’s main use is still for sliding doors, but cheap, mass-printed paper has become the norm. There are only a few makers that continue to produce handmade karakami in the traditional way, using the same printing blocks that were used more than a hundred years ago.

How is Kyo Karakami Made?

Traditional kyo karakami is made by pressing large sheets of paper onto a wooden block coated with a special type of ink made with powdered mica, giving it a natural glitter. The wooden printing blocks are called “hangi” and are carved with intricate patterns which often repeat so that a large surface can be covered with a seamless design.

Maruni has a collection of around 300 antique hangi printing blocks, of which about 150 can still be used to produce karakami. Many of the blocks are hundreds of years old, meaning that ancient designs can still be used to make brand new karakami today.

 The ink used for karakami is created by mixing several ingredients including “funori,” a seaweed that has been used as glue for centuries, and “kirako” (powdered mica), which gives the ink a shimmering appearance.  

“funori” and “kirako”

These ingredients are ground into a paste together with color pigments to create an ink that must be at the perfect consistency in order to apply evenly to the hangi. Mixing the ink requires years of experience to perfect, and is one of the tricky parts of the process.  

What Are We Offering With this Project?

For this project, shokunin at Maruni designed 3 new small hangi printing blocks that are based on antique hangi that have been used for hundreds of years. These new hangi can be used by people at home to print their own karakami for letters, scrapbooking, decoration, or anything else you can think of.

Hasu (lotus)
Sakura (cherry blossom)
Kiku (chrysanthemum)

The new hangi will be made from a type of wood called “honoki” (Japanese bigleaf magnolia), harvested in Hiroshima Prefecture, that is the same wood traditionally used for hangi. They will be created using Maruni’s state-of-the-art laser cutting machine, which will allow for a reasonable price and give Maruni the ability produce enough for everyone who backs the project. 

Each reward tier will include hangi and/or wooden “soemon” stamps, ink, and paper so that you can get started right away.

About Hanakotoba

In addition to the tradition of karakami itself, Maruni also wanted to introduce another bit of Japanese culture called “hanakotoba,” the language of flowers. Hanakotoba is one way to convey your feelings to someone else through the symbolism of flowers.

 Hasu is the Japanese word for the louts, a flower that blooms from the depths of murky pond water. In Japan, it has a strong association with Buddhism, as it is believed to be seen in the Pure Land—the place where those who have achieved enlightenment ascend to. Hasu’s main hanakotoba are “pure-hearted” and “sacred,” as the beautiful flower of the lotus emerging from the dirty pond water below symbolizes the struggle to overcome challenges and the beautiful reward that awaits those who persevere. 

 A beloved symbol of springtime in Japan, cherry blossoms are undeniably beautiful and carry equally beautiful symbolism. Traditionally, sakura were often planted next to rice fields and were a symbol of bountiful harvest. Nowadays, however, sakura’s most popular hanakotoba meanings are: beautiful soul and beautiful woman. Thus, it is an excellent flower to convey a compliment to someone whom you admire.

The Kiku (chrysanthemum) is a very significant flower in Japan, as it appears on the crest of the imperial family. Thus, it is often associated with nobility, although it also carries several different meanings based on the color:

Red = Love.
   Yellow = Heartbroken.
   White = Truth.
   Purple = Wishes will come true.
   Pink = Sweet dreams.

How to Use The Karakami Kit

Start by preparing your ink—if you have a set with kirako, you’ll have to mix it according to the instructions. If using pre-made ink, you’re good to go.

Next, wet the hangi with a damp cloth. This prevents the moisture from the ink from being absorbed into the wood before it can be applied to the paper. 

Use a damp cloth to wet the hangi before use

Next, apply an even layer of the ink to the hangi. If using kirako ink, first use the brush to apply ink to the orange-colored applicator, and then dab the hangi with the applicator.

Using an ink pad (left) or kirako ink (right)

You can then press the hangi down onto the paper like a stamp, or put the paper on top of the hangi and smooth over it with your hand to ensure an even application of ink.

Put the paper on top of the hangi, or use the hangi on top of the paper like a stamp

If creating a larger design, repeat the process of applying ink, then carefully line up the last print so that the seam will be invisible—this is the tricky part!

You can also apply ink to only one part of the hangi if you want a single print, and you can also get creative by using multiple colors of ink to add color variation to your print. 

The creative possibilities are endless! 

 The included karakami paper is perfectly sized to be used as a postcard, but you can use the hangi to print designs onto any type of paper.  Use the hangi to give a Japanese touch to your letters, envelopes, scrapbooks, bullet journals, notepads, or anything else you can think of! 

Maruni President Kazunori Nishimura (left) and karakami craftsman Yuji Kudo (right)

Maruni is a company located in Kyoto City, where it first started as a maker of traditional interior items in 1902. 

To this day, Maruni’s main business remains supplying traditional Japanese interior items such as fusuma (sliding doors) and byobu (standing screens) to shokunin who install them at temples, hotels, restaurants, residences, and other traditional facilities. However, it is also one of only two companies in Kyoto that produces Kyo karakami made in the traditional way using antique hangi printing blocks. 

In recent years, Maruni has been taking steps to introduce karakami to a wider audience by creating many new karakami-based products that people can incorporate into their daily lives such as lamps, hand fans, stationery, and karakami DIY kits like those offered in this project.

Maruni also offers karakami-making workshops in Kyoto, so please be sure to stop by the store when visiting Japan!

About Kyoto, Maruni’s Hometown

The view of downtown Kyoto from Higashiyama

Kyoto is one of Japan’s most historic cities. It was the imperial capital for nearly 1,000 years, and is one of the few major Japanese cities that was spared from bombing during the Second World War. This means that many ancient temples, shrines, and other historic buildings remain intact in the city today, and it is one of the top destinations in Japan for both domestic and international tourists.

Ninenzaka, an old road lined with shops near Kiyomizu-dera Temple

People come to Kyoto to basque in the traditional atmosphere that remains in several pockets of the city, try Kyoto’s famous food and tea, and relish traditional Japanese experiences. As one of the traditional cultural centers of Japan, Kyoto is home to many unique traditional Crafts, of which Kyo karakami is one. If you visit Kyoto, be sure to explore Kyoto’s many traditional art forms while you are in the city!

The Kamogawa River

Reward Details

In addition to the three new hangi introduced above, Maruni is also offering four small “soemon” wooden stamps that can be used on their own or to add an extra decorative touch to a karakami design. 

Soemon stamps from left to right: chrysanthemum, thistle, sakura, camellia

Two of the soemon stamps come with the Soemon stamp kit,  but all can be purchased as add-ons after you pledge. 

For very generous supporters, there is also a “Tokubetsu” (special) reward that comes in a wooden box and includes all of the hangi and soemon stamps as well as tools needed to make real kirako ink and vouchers for two to experience karakami making at the Maruni workshop in Kyoto. If you’d like to get the full karakami experience and think you might be heading to Kyoto in the future, this is the reward option for you!

The other rewards come with ink pads that work very well and are easy to use, but if you’d like to try out making real kirako, you can also purchase the tools and kirako powder as add-ons after you pledge. It’s tricky to get just, but very beautiful and rewarding when you do! 

Thank You

Thank you for checking out the project. Please consider supporting it if you are intrigued to learn more about Kyo karakami while supporting its continuation into the future!

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