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by Jonathan Maples*

A Short Description of Hyousou

表装 These characters form the word hyousou, which means mountingi, but can also be used to indicate the surface or outer layer of an object. Hyousou is craftsmanship in paper, cloth, glue and wood to create traditional products such as 障子 shoji (sliding paper doors), 襖 fusuma (Sliding Doors made with Hardened Paper), and 掛け軸 kakejiku (Wall Scrolls). A 表装師 hyousoushi is a person that works in these arts.

The Rise and Fall of the Art of Hyousou in Japan


The culture of Hyousou in Japan began over 1,200 years ago in the Naraii period (A.D. 710-794iii). The art of Hyousou has a deep connection and affiliation with the migration of Buddhism from mainland China and Korea into Japan. After the assimilation of Hyousou into Japanese society, the Hyouguten, or store where Hyousoushi sold their wares and skills, began to proliferate throughout every corner of Japan, where almost every town had at least one Hyouguten, to modern times where these stores have all but vanished in almost every city large and small throughout Japan. Unlike the art of bonsai, which still honors the master/apprentice system of skill development, there are very few Master Hyousoushi with which to learn the skills to become a proficient scroll maker, or other paper artisan. The reason for this was the modernization and machination of making scrolls and other products once made by professional hands. Just like today, the customer demands of prettier, faster and cheaper resulted in relying upon mechanical means to create a kakejiku. Today, the year-long curing of a work on the drying board after the initial or hada urauchi (the first layer mounted onto the back of a work) has been replaced by 5 seconds of manufacturing devices which utilize heat and pressure to seal the work. Natural starch based glues have been replaced by chemically formulated glues. Hand carving of the Jikubou (round dowel used to roll the scroll) has been replaced by CNC lathes. It is yet to be determined whether these machine made scrolls will survive the test of time and the effects on the art works themselves has yet to be measured. Traditionalists argue that the longer the work cures on the Karibariban (Drying Board), the better it is for the works longevity. The yearlong wait allows the paper of the work to become accustomed to the differing seasonal air such as the sweltering Summer, parched Autumn, bitter Winter and moist Spring. This is argued to help the work retain conformity in shape and form over many ages. Others argue that Chemical based glues are not eco-friendly and that restoration of works subjected to such chemicals hinders restoration in later years. Most importantly, the skills and knowledge necessary to create a handmade Hyougu are being replaced by unskilled production workers who neither value nor enhance the integrity of the scroll through mechanized production processes.

Scroll Design

It should also be noted that as wall scroll techniques were adopted from China, Japanese artists and calligraphers were requesting that their works be dressed up in a Kimono. This pushed Japanese hyousoushi to develop styles uniquely Japanese. Additionally, native cloths and silks were utilized which spawned the evolution into diverging styles of Kakejiku scroll design. It is a generalization, but Chinese wall scrolls tend towards paler cloth colors with slight patterns in them while Japanese scrolls lean toward darker, solid cloths. In personal observation, many Chinese scrolls incorporate a decorative Jikugi that does not have a Jikusaki. Japanese hyousoushi will attach decorative wooden, ceramic, bone (although this is frowned upon for Religious works related to Buddhism) or even plastic Jikusaki onto the Jikugi.

The saddest aspect of the above mentioned mechanization process is that overall scroll design has suffered, meaning style and color of the scroll itself is becoming the limiting factor of owning something uniquely original. Many frame shops have decided to tell the customer that they have a choice of only ten colors and one style (Maru Hyougu) for the scroll. This would seem to be a regression back to the days when the great automaker Henry Ford said, "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black"iv. The scrolls made by machine can be lined up on a wall with little variation in theme, or color. Perhaps this is preferable by the artist, for it would then become extant on the art work itself to lend prominence to the total scroll, and not the other way around.

Scroll design is the definitive characteristic for a hyousoushi to demonstrate his creativity and ability to reveal his eye for aesthetic design and balance. When designing the scroll, the hyousoushi is required to adhere to three primary principles in order of importance when deciding the final look of a scrollv.

  1. Where the Scroll will Hang
  2. The Work of Art
  3. The Artist

Ma is defined as an interval in space or time. It is of particular importance to the arts, such as Noh, Kabuki and music where there are purposeful spaces in spoken lines or between notes in music. This allows the listener to connect one thought or concept to the next. It acts as a transitional bridge from one concept to the other. Ma is also a concept used in architecture and is particularly useful for bonsai display in the Toko no Ma. In speaking with the bonsai artists, it was the mainstream view that the bonsai is the primary set piece of the display. This is probably true according to the rules of Seki Kazari, (of which the author has no training or expertise). However, the hyousoushi should try to design a scroll that would fit both the style of the tree and season of the year for the display. The size and color of the kireji (Cloth that has Urauchi or backing paper attached) should provide an eye bridge between the bonsai and the kakejiku with the empty space between the objects providing an equalizing balance and perspective between all objects of the display. Contrast of wall color to the scroll cloth is also an important factor on where a scroll should hang.

Artworks convey different meanings to different people. However, consistently similar moods will be evoked from superior works of art. Is the mood dark and somber; introspective and inspiring; or light and sunny? Color is the first method a hyousoushi can use to create symbolic imagery in the viewers mind. However, if we are limited by the cloth color choices available, then the scrolls artistic expression is also limited. Total scroll size can also either hinder or enhance the work itself. Layout of the work can also determine size of the different sections of the scroll. A vertical work may require adjustment in the size of the Hashira (Pillars or side cloths of the scroll) compared to a horizontal scroll. In some cases a scroll that is longer horizontally than vertically may be a better choice to display the work. This again reflects the previous concept of Ma discussed above.


Finally, it is important for the hyousoushi to get to know the artist on more than a casual basis. It is easy to define the mood in a work, but the intimate details of the artist’s creative process and Mikata (way of seeing the world) is an entirely different matter. Visiting an artist’s studio is one of the best ways to view completed works, works in process and projects yet started. It is here that one can evaluate thinking processes, preferences in styles and colors, mannerisms, punctuality, cleanliness and other personality traits that help to define their finished works.

After understanding these three elements, hyousoushi must then design a scroll that projects and enhances the work and the surrounding décor of where the scroll will hang. One additional point that should be added for scroll design is to use the scroll frame to describe the Japanese symbols in calligraphy. The majority of Americans cannot read Kanji, and hence scrolls with writing should have meaning in the cloths selected to help define the symbols. For example, a scroll with the writing of dragon could utilize dragons printed in the clothvi. However, a solid red cloth for fire or solid green cloth for skin may also be good choices in helping to enhance the Kanji symbols in the subconscious mind of the viewer, and hence strengthening the imagery of the scroll.

i Jim Breen’s Online Dictionary at http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/cgi-bin/wwwjdic.cgi?1E
ii Kakejiku Shitate 135, Tooru Arakawa Dec. 10, 2007
iii http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nara_period

iv Henry Ford, Samuel Crowther (1922). My Life and Work. Doubleday. p. 72.
v Hyougu Montou Paraphrased concepts into English by the article author Jonathan Maples.
vi http://www.wallscroll.blogspot.com Shikishi Kake Dragon Scroll

* Jonathan Maples works as a 表装師 Hyousoushi. Hyousou is the Japanese word for framing. He has trained for five years in the art of Hyousou and has been a direct student under Sagawa Taishin in Tokyo, Japan.


Custom Japanese Calligraphy
545 West 600 North St. George, UT 84770
Blog: http://Www.Wallscroll.Blogspot.com

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