Chiyogami is a type of Japanese paper decorated with brightly colored, woodblock-printed patterns. Used today for a variety of handicrafts, such as covering small boxes, origami, and making kimono for paper dolls (anesama). Ukiyo-e artists first produced Chiyogami in the late 18th century. The word is a combination of chiyo (literally, "a thousand generations") and kami (gami), or paper, and has auspicious connotations similar to those evoked by the pine, bamboo, and plum-blossom motifs with which it is often printed. Pine and bamboo trees remain green throughout the coldest weather, while winter-flowering plum trees bloom even when their branches are decked with snow, thus giving hope to mankind during the bleakest season of the year. Combinations of cranes and tortoises are popular, because these animals have always served as emblems of long life and happiness.
As anesama began to flourish at a time when ornamental paper was increasingly regarded as a necessity; in return, the influence of anesama upon chiyogami became apparent. One direct result was the enormous number of miniature adaptations from standard all-over fabric patterns, such as stripes, laids, dots, or other geometric designs, and floral scatter prints. The origami folder of today need only walk into a modern fabric store and glance around at all the wonderful fabric patterns and think of how the patterns would look on a piece of paper. Perhaps this accounts for a small part in the growing popularity of fabrigami.
During the Edo period (1603-1867), chiyogami was an outcome of the many established papermaking centers throughout Japan. It was the paper of choice by many who could not afford the beautiful washi papers. Like washi paper, its popularity spread from Kyoto, to Edo (modern Tokyo), and Osaka. It is from these three main cities that it is still being manufactured and sold by a handful of woodblock printers.
For the origamist of today, chiyogami has caught the attention of the prospective folder who does not want to pay a hefty price for attractive and foldable paper. Like in times past, chiyogami continues to remain the choice for the origami folder when compared to its rich cousin - washi paper.
This article has been authored by Kimberly Crane. All rights reserved, please contact Kimberly Crane for authorization to copy material in this article.