close up of a sheet of Japanese chiyogami washi patterned paper.  Image shows flowers near water in soft tones of lilac, sage, duck egg blue and gold.

Colourful Chiyogami

Chiyogami is washi, Japanese paper, which has been hand-printed with colourful, patterned designs.

Washi literally translates as “paper” and is the traditional paper processed by hand using fibres from the inner bark of the gampi (a group of native shrubs of the genus Wikstroemia) the mitsumata (Edgeworthia chrysantha) and kōzo (paper mulberry) in Japan. Due to the long fibres the paper is strong and durable.


Decorative washi has its roots in the Heian period (794-1185 CE), when aristocracy began to use ornate paper to send letters or poems to friends.  During the Edo period (1603-1868 CE) the processes were further developed by artists using the woodblock printing technique.  The popularity of these pretty patterned papers soared and endures to this day.  In today’s times chiyogami is silk-screen printed by hand in several small studios around Kyoto.


The patterns are fine in their detail, often inspired by rich textile designs, depicting botanical and geometric motifs as seen on kimonos.  As flowers are aesthetically beautiful this is a common inspiration, each variety conveys symbolic and sometimes seasonal meanings, for example, spring cherry blossom (sakura) symbolises fleeting beauty and renewal and the autumn chrysanthemum (kiko) suggests longevity.

Each colour in the design has to be applied separately by silk-screen, which is a skilled and laborious application and most designs are finished with an application of gold, silver or copper. Each gorgeous paper is filled with the artisan’s skill and spirit.

Uses for chiyogami

Since the Edo period, chiyogami has been used for decorating tins and boxes, as well as for stationery such as postcards, notebooks, letter sets and envelopes. The durability and strength of chiyogami continue to make it particularly well-suited to a variety of decorative and craft uses such as textile arts, bookbinding and origami.

These papers are also lovely just to look at and appreciate!  Handmade paper has an ineffable warmth and expressiveness that is missing from machine-made counterparts, thanks to little "imperfections" that betray the hand of the human maker and the richness of the colours. They can be framed to enjoy on the wall or maybe line a special drawer.  Finally add a gorgeousness and warmth to your gift wrapping, these special papers will elevate a heartfelt gift.

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