Japanese Inspiration

Japan is a never-ending source of inspiration for us bookbinders : beautiful papers, creative binding, original fabrics… so many possibilities for us to create notebooks or sketchbooks.
Today, I would like to explain why one of the most famous Japanese artists is such a source of inspiration for me. Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is famous around the world for his beautiful drawings – everyone knows « the wave », which has been declined in an infinity of objects such as mugs, scarves… but first and foremost, it is a beautiful Washi paper used for binding notebooks.


Notebook A4 bound with black paper and Japanese paper representing the Wave (Legatoria la Carta)

Hokusai is incorrectly nicknamed the « inventor of the manga ». As beautiful and funny as his drawings and caricatures are, they do not really tell stories like we interpret manga with the contemporary meaning. But as he was travelling throughout Japan, he drew everything which caught his attention : flowers, animals, landscapes, people -famous or non- and also made portraits of supernatural creatures that were very popular in the Japanese collective imagination. Advised by another artist, Kekkotei Bokusen, he decided to gather his drawings to be used as models or teaching diaries designed to help young artists. It became a real encyclopedia of daily life in Japan in the Edo period (1603-1868).


Hokusai, « Acrobats », vol. 8. Editor Eirakuya Toshiro, 1819. Cologne, coll. Gerhard Pulverer

Between 1814 and 1849, he was the first artist to publish his drawing in 15 volumes, « thousands of reproductions of what is on the earth, in the sky, under the sea » (Edmond de Goncourt).


Hokusai, manga, notebooks 1 to 14. Bunka era, an XI (1814) – Editor Eirakuya Toshiro © Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art

These diaries were of course bound with the Japanese bookbinding technique (see below), all of them with a cover of different color to distinguish them. They are so beautiful that I decided to create a collection of notebooks inspired by this type of color-coded system.


In this collection for example, there is clearly the influence of the Hokusai notebooks with the colored covers : three blues, two greens (cold colors) and one yellow, an orange, a pink, a red and a purple (warm colors). The sticker on the cover translates to « drawing », while the binding looks like the traditional Japanese binding but it’s not really one. In this example, we use a simple sheet of paper and make holes on the left side then use a white strip to attach the sheets of paper together with the cover. This is a reminder of the most famous traditional Japanese binding technique called fukurotoji or “pouch” binding method. In this case, the leaflets are folded in half before binding them. The fold comes on the outer side of the book and it is the loose side of the pages that gets bound, so the paper looks a bit like a pipe or tube, which means that only one side of the page, the front side, is used. Because there is no need for thick paper that can be used on both sides, most books were made using the thinner kōzo (choshi) paper. The binding is easy to realise : first, you make some holes then pass the thread through each hole, leaving out few inches more than the thickness of the book, then you work on the part that sticks out with your fingers, and finally you flatten it in with a wooden mallet until it resembles the head of a metal nail. You repeat the process on both sides. This is called shiteisō (“paper-nail” binding).
In the earliest times, fukurotoji books only had text on one side. Because paper was so valuable in early times, it was not discarded after one use but was kept to be reused. For instance, people held on the letters they received, turned them over, and used the available side to make a fukurotoji.

Japanese bindings are another source of endless creative ways to find inspiration to bind notebooks. You can play around with the placement of the holes on the covers to find new binding styles or, going further, you can create more designs by changing the color of the thread, its design, the paper used…


A group of notebooks bound with Takeo paper and original bindings (Legatoria la Carta)

Here, we created a gift for a customer, a box designed to host a notebook bound with a bicolored stripe and a cute way of closing the notebook, and another compartment where you can put some cards or a stamp.



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