Chigiri-e: A Japanese Paper Art

Beehive GingerChigiri-e is a Japanese art form that uses hand made and hand dyed Japanese paper called washi to create images, transforming into beautiful pieces of art. If you just saw chigiri-e from a distance, it looks similar to a water color or sometimes an oil painting.  But, then upon closer inspection you realize that the image is actually created with paper and it takes one imagination by surprise.

In Japanese, chigiru means to tear or shred and “e” (eh) means picture.  The technique begins with tearing washi into small pieces to create depth, texture and dimension for the image, a method similar to collage.  The pieces are then pasted onto an art board – like painting with paper.

Washi plays an important role in chigiri-e, as the characteristics of an image is partially  determined by the type of washi used. The thickness, fiber content, quality, gradation of the dyes all contribute to a dynamic art form that comes alive through the skills of the artist.

Chigiri-e has a history of over 65 years, very short for a Japanese art form. The story goes that a famous artist picked up precious bits of paper after the devastation of Tokyo and other cities after World War II, and created a beautiful picture – thus was the beginning of chigiri-e.  Actually, the use of washi to create images was seen on screens from the Heian Period, over 1,000 years ago.  However, there was no “official” designation that this was an art form, it was initially just in pursuit of beauty and creativity.  In the 1960’s, a traditional kimono school in Tokyo, Hakubi Kimono Gakuen, took this method and spread the art to many of their students who were also studying other forms of Japanese art and culture.  Today, it has grown into a real Japanese art form bringing it to a new level of inspiration.  And one of the earlier students at Hakubi was my mother, Lily Nakao.  The image above is one of her original creations called “Beehive Ginger“.

My mother enjoyed chigiri-e and it resonated with her sensibilities so much that she wished to spread this art form outside of Japan.  Upon retiring to her home in Honolulu, she began volunteering to teach others at the Senior Program of the Moiliili Community Center. If you live in Honolulu you can take her classes there so please click on the link.  It has now been 15 years, and her enthusiastic students extend not only in Honolulu but to Hilo, Hawaii as well.  I was most fortunate to visit her class recently in Hilo where I met all the talented and enthusiastic chigiri-e budding artists!

As I am a student of feng shui, what fascinates me about chigiri-e is the method of tearing. My master always says that there is energy in our hands.  That’s why I find that the act of tearing with our hands produces a completely different energy from using a metal pair of scissors:  tearing vs. cutting. The difference between a clean cut edge and a soft fibrous edge produces a completely different feeling and this is the difference in energy.  Also, from the material standpoint, each sheet of washi paper is produced by many hands.  Then the washi is hand dyed.  More hand energy is added to the paper.   If you break down the whole process from the beginning of the paper making to the end of creating an image, it is completely created by hands!

Those many hands make each piece of art so special and maybe that’s why there seems to be so much energy in each picture, regardless of technique. This energy has a magnetic power that pulls you into the image, giving a very good feeling – what I call good qi!  If you get a chance to see chigiri-e, please take the opportunity to observe the art form and even have a try at it yourself.  For the rest of us who do not have access to chigiri-e, we will enjoy the art of those who are so gifted and talented from afar!

Lily now has a website and a shop on Red Bubble!  Please visit Lilynakao.com and her SHOP.  They make beautiful gifts!




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16 Comments

  1. soy Boliviana de la ciudad de La Paz, me gustaria tener mas informacion de esta tecnica milenaria en español, hermosa muy hermosa y mistica los resultados maravillosos

  2. @ Frank Zweegers: Thank you for your kind words!
    @denissemariela:
    Bienvenido a mi blog y gracias por comentar. Hay muy poca información sobre Chigiri-e fuera de Japón. Espero ser capaz de publicar más sobre esto en el futuro. Por favor, vuelva otra vez! gracias! Esto fue hecho por Google Translate.

  3. I plan to go to Tokyo and want to get a few washi paper for projects. Can I go directly to the Hakubi school mentioned above? Is there any way that I can contact the school? Thank you.

  4. Hi Jane,

    Thank you for your interest. After contacting my mother, she somehow solved the mystery and said she was able to give you information on where to purchase washi. Enjoy your trip to Tokyo!
    Let me know if you need further help. Best.

  5. Thank you. I really enjoyed reading (most of the articles written). It’s a mine of information you have here.
    I actually came looking at the Chigiri-E.as I had a Japanese artist that was teaching this method blended with the Hari-E techniques . Mitsuko Bonnardeaux called it the Kumi-E. I found it fascinating, so delicate. Whilst we were doing the classes, it was much more than a special collage, we were introduced to cooking classes and other insights into Japanese way of living.
    I am surprised to find out that this art form is relatively new.
    I have never been to Honolulu, If I do, I will make sure I visit the Moiilili Community Centre. I love her creation ‘Beehive Ginger’ It’s beautiful.

  6. Hi Marie-Chrisine,
    Thanks so much for visiting! I never heard of Kumi-e. I would love to know more about it. Much of Asian culture is inter-related, all following similar philosophies, so I can understand your teachers approach. I will tell my Mom that you loved her Beehive chigiri-e. She will be delighted!

  7. Hi Jenny,
    It is something that Mitsuko has borrowed from the Chigiri-E(hand torn paper pictures) and Hari-E(collages) mixed with her experiences of living abroad, with batik in Indonesia, weaving in Belgium, doll making in Germany and ceramics in Japan amongst other things. An interesting combination.
    Have a nice day.

  8. How is this art generally displayed? Hung directly on a wall? Placed on a table easel? Is it framed? Matted? Protected by glass or plastic?
    I have come into possession of several lovely pieces and want to treat them well!

  9. Hi Kim,
    That’s great that you want to treat them well. Traditionally, they are mounted on a shikishi which is similar to a thick cardboard made from washi paper. This can be directly hung on the wall. However, nowadays many like to mat and frame the art work to prevent it from getting damaged.
    I would useable non-glare glass. Hope this helps.

  10. Hi Faith,
    I asked my mother Lily, who is the artist. She said she uses rice paste, as it has been used for hundreds of years. It’s natural and safe.
    The pieces are glued to a Japanese board called “shikishi” which is similar to a very thick cardboard.

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