Kyoto University of Foreign Studies has an exhibition on “Crepe-Paper Books and Woodblock Prints”; there’s lots of interesting stuff there, but I’ll call your attention to the Preface, which discusses the phenomenon of “crepe-paper books,” called chirimen-bon in Japanese (縮緬紙 chirimen is ‘crepe paper’):

The term “chirimen-bon” refers to books that were made by crinkling “washi” (i.e., Japanese paper) printed with the contents (i.e., text and/or pictures) before binding them Japanese-style as pages. They are called “Crepe-paper books” in English. They arose in the Meiji period, with the publication of translations, made by Westerners residing in Japan, of old legends and tales. Typically, the text was illustrated by a Japanese illustrator in accordance with the plot, and hand-carved woodblocks were used for manual printing on high-grade “washi,” which was crinkled before binding. Besides those relating legends and tales, there were some “chirimen-bon” written about Japanese culture. They come in a diversity of languages, mainly including English, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Their success led to the publication of some stories, albeit few, set in other countries. With the help of sales contracts concluded with overseas bookstores, “chirimen-bon” found increasing favor in Europe, North America, and other Asian countries.

I have a few such books around somewhere, relics of my early life in postwar Japan, and I’m glad to know something about their history. (Via No-sword.)


  1. j. del col says

    There is a variety of dwarf false cypress whose proper name is “Chirimen.” This has been corrupted by the nursery trade into “Chairman.” I speak from experience. I own a specimen of it.

  2. j. del col says

    BTW, the plant is called “Chirimen” because of the crinkled appearance of its foliage. It must have reminded somebody of crepe paper.

  3. The foliage and not the wood-grain or bark? (I don’t actually know the details of this cultivar. Those just seem a little more plausible as crepe-paper-like.)

  4. j del col says

    It’s difficult to describe how the plant really looks, but the bark is not visible at all. The bush is completely cloaked in very short, pendulous branches that are themselves covered with tiny leaves that give the kind of crinkled look that is associated with crepe paper. It’s a type of Sawara cypress.
    I also have several Hinoki cultivars that display the exfoliating bark you mention, though the champs for that, at least in my collection, are my Lace Bark Pine and Paper Bark Maples. I have a couple Arakawa maples coming along, too that should be developing rough bark in the next couple seasons.

  5. Kári Tulinius says

    These are very lovely. Here’s another collection.

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