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What is Kana Ryoshi?

Beyond-Calligraphy-F1-Kana-Ryoshi-Tale-of-Genji

Tale of Genji – Image from Tokugawa Art Museum

Have you ever seen the Genji Monogatari in the form of an 絵巻物 emaki-mono, an Illustrated Handscroll of the Tale of Genji based upon the famous novel by Murasaki Shikibu at a museum or reproduced in a book? I’m sure you were surprised to see the beautiful and delicate paper of the Genji Monogatari illustrated from the book written about the year 1000. That paper is one type of “Kana Ryoshi”.

Classical Kana calligraphy has been written on beautifully made special paper.

Sheets of Kana Ryoshi

Sheets of Kana Ryoshi

“Kana” refers to Japan’s own phonetic symbols which were made on the basis of Chinese characters called “Kanji”. Kana was necessary to be created because the Japanese language could not be written using only Chinese characters. “Kana” is characterized into two “phonetic alphabets”, “Hiragana” and “Katakana”. “Hiragana” was created to simplify Sōsho (the cursive style of writing Chinese characters) and “Katakana” was made by simplifying and using only part of a Kaisho Kanji (block style Chinese characters). In the traditional calligraphy world, “Kana” indicates mainly “Hiragana“. In olden days “Katakana” had been used as a supplementary symbol for the ease of reading Chinese sentences and poetry. Today katakana is used mainly for foreign words.

Beyond-Calligraphy-F3-Kana-Ryoshi

“Ryōshi” means, in a broad sense, “paper for writing something”. In a narrow sense, it means ” paper produced for small and middle size kana.

Handmade Calligraphy paper (not processed) is called “Kigami 生紙” and “Soshi 素紙”. After processing, it is called “Kakoushi 加工紙 (processed paper)” and “Jukushi 熟紙”. “Ryōshi” is one type of Kakoushi. It is for small and middle size Kana and is often decorated gorgeously. To be exact, it is called “Sōshoku Ryōshi 装飾料紙 (decorative Ryōshi)”.

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There are many methods of producing Kana ryōshi, so I will write some popular methods.
・Dyed paper(Somegami 染紙),
・Printed paper (Karakami 唐紙)
・Paper decorated with gold or silver foil
(Haku-sōshokugami 箔装飾紙)
・Patched paper (Tsugigami 継紙)
・Wax paper (Rōsen 蝋箋)

Beyond-Calligraphy-F5-Kana-Ryoshi

If you would like to know more about methods for making Kana Ryoshi, see their website.

Mr. Hisashi Komuro was born as the son of a kana ryōshi artisan, Yoshihisa Komuro, (1931-2011) in 1962 in Hitachiōta-city Ibaraki prefecture.

His grandfather, Toku Komuro (1899-1985), was the founder of the studio and was involved in working on the reproduction of Kohitus (classic works of calligraphy) in Tokyo around 1935. From these artisans Toku learned the basic techniques of every procedure and started to make Kana Ryōshi by himself. With guidance from scholars of Japanese literature and calligraphers, Toku was able, with dedicated effort, to manage the entire production process alone. After WWⅡ, Toku went back to his hometown Hitachiōta and opened his kana ryōshi studio.

Beyond-Calligraphy-F6-Kana-Ryoshi

Toku’s son, Yoshihisa, became the successor to the family business. Yoshihisa’s son, Hisashi, also followed his father.

Before Hisashi became the successor to his family’s business, he learned the traditional methods of woodblock printing from woodcut artist, Mr. Minoru Yoneda at Yoneda’s studio. Then he studied and inherited the studio with the traditional techniques of producing Kana Ryōshi from his father.

Mr. Hisashi Komuro is an important and valuable and precious person in the Japanese kana calligraphy world for making traditional Kana Ryōshi and connecting traditional Japanese culture to the next generation.

Fortunately, you can learn more information about kana ryōshi on Komuro Kana Ryōshi’s studio website and can make contact to arrange for visiting their studio.

Beyond-Calligraphy-F7-Kana-Ryoshi-Hisashi-Komuro

Mr. Hisashi Komuro

You can also see Kana-Ryōshi for writing classic works of calligraphy (Kohitsu) on this website in English. Kōyagire, Decchōbon, Wakan, Rō-eishū, Tsugi-shikishi, Sunshōan-shikishi and more…

Please visit the Komuro Kana Ryōshi studio website!!

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Sakiko Yanagisawa

Sakiko Yanagisawa began her study of Shodo at the age of 6. Entering Japan Women's University in 1996 and majoring in Japanese Literature and Language, she studied with various shodo Masters of the Shiun Shodokai, including teachers such as master Okoshi Setsudo and Master Ishizawa Kochu among others. After graduating from university in 2000, she decided to specialize in Shodo. She received the title of Shihan in 2008 from Shiun Shodokai.

3 Comments

  1. Meredith McPherson on 10/02/2016 at 11:55

    Fascinating and informative article . Kindly thank Sakiko Yanagidsawa for me!

    I like the email reminders to hat something new is on beyond-calligraphy.com!

  2. Yoshio Kusaba 草場 良夫 on 10/02/2016 at 19:59

    Dear Ms. Yanagisawa Gyōhō: Thank you for your enlightening discussion. If I may, I would like to offer a short comment. One relates to the organization of your dispose and second on kanji, hiragana and katakana. It would have been useful to begin your discussion with a brief definition of “washi” Japanese paper. This naturally could lead to what is meant by “ryōshi,” whose Japanese characters 料紙 does not appear until your mention of ryōshi sōshoku 料紙装飾.

    Here are JAANUS (Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System) for your information:
    • On washi 和紙 Japanese paper: .
    • On ryōshi 料紙, paper used for writing and painting; for documents, classical books, Buddhist sutras etc.; . Also see: .
    • On ryōshi sōshoku 料紙装飾–The decoration of paper used for calligraphy and painting ryōshi 料紙: .

    The second comment relates to the circumstances of developing written Japanese characters, kanji, hiragana and katakana. Since they are complex, I will be brief. The most critical point in understanding the beginning of written Japanese coincide with the introduction of Buddhism from Kudara Korea in the mid-6th century A.D. (two theories for the date, one is 538 and 552. With Buddhism came written Buddhist texts, the sutras. They were written using the Chinese kanji characters imitating the Sanskrit sounds. Until this time, the Japanese did not have any written systems. From the Chinese kanji characters, the Japanese developed kana forms, as you also discuss. They are the man’yōgana 万葉仮名. For instance, for hiragana, the Japanese sound “a,” written as あ, derives from the cursive form of Chinese kanji 安 “an” as in 天安門 in Beijing 北京, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. As for katakana ア, from 阿. For more on these, see: . All three forms, the kanji, hiragana and katakana were used. The kanji was mostly for official documents while katakana was used by male courtiers, and eventually became the male writing form. (It is true that katakana was used by Japanese male as recent as the end of the Pacific War.) As for the hiragawa, especially beginning in the Heian period 平安時代, it became the female form of writing. From this, we have the masterful works by the court ladies such as the Genji Monogatari 源氏物語, which you briefly touch on, by Murashaki Shikibu 紫式部 and Makura no Sōshi 枕草子 by Shei Shonagon 清少納言 and so on. Thus, a clear division between the male and female forms of not only the writing system, but more interestingly their visual art counterparts, namely, otoko-e 男絵 and on’na-e 女絵. And of particular relationship to your ryōshi sōshoku 料紙装飾 written often in hiragana form, harks back to the Heian period female forms of writing and a close relationship to the notion of being “decorative.”

    Respectfully, Yoshio Kusaba 草場 良夫

    • Yoshio Kusaba 草場 良夫 on 10/02/2016 at 20:07

      P.S. On the man’yōgana (万葉仮名), which is what the Japanese developed as their writing system after the introduction of Buddhism in the mid-6th century. The two kana alphabets katakana and hiragana began as simplifications of this system. See: .

      And on the man’yōgana (万葉仮名) themselves: .

      Yoshio Kusaba

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