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A 19th Century Kappa: Kaki Shibu Infused Paper

Written on August 21, 2012

A kappa is a traditional Japanese cape that was worn for travel and as a buffer against the elements.  The word kappa is borrowed from the Portuguese capa as the Portuguese were said to have introduced this style of garment to Japan.Often kappa are made of cotton and they can be lined with paper infused with kaki shibu or persimmon tannin: this coated paper is semi-impervious to water, which is good for traveling in rain, and, also, when the paper moves, it makes a pleasant rustling sound.In the case of this 19th century kappa, the paper cape is the finished cape.  This is not a lining.  This is the garment which would have been worn on the street.Notice how the paper is joined with perfectly evenly matched seams, and that the pattern is one of radiating wedge shapes.And notice, too, the hand stitched details, such as the button-like disc, below, around which a cotton cord was wound to secure the garment closed.The kaki shibu-impregnated paper is leathery in look, but in this case it feels almost as if the paper is oiled.  It’s very crisp to the touch, yet it is still fairly durable.

I’ll have to look at bit harder at the maker’s mark, above, and see what I can come up with.

Even though kappa are often made of wonderful old, cottons, I generally don’t buy them, even though the cottons are fine.  Kappa are difficult to display, but I couldn’t pass up this paper one, and I think I found a good solution for showing it.

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  1. Comment by velma:

    this is a wonderful way to show the piece, and i love the idea of a rustling sound to contrast with the raindrops.

    August 21, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

  2. Comment by onesmallstitch:

    the colour with the light shining through is lovely. does it have a kaki smell?

    August 21, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

  3. Comment by Stephen:

    The distinctive kaki shibu “aroma” is just barely there…not surprising that it is almost gone after 150 years!

    August 22, 2012 @ 11:20 am

  4. Comment by onesmallstitch:

    thanks for the reply. I’m dyeing with the “unscented” powder at this time and it still has the very distinctive scent. Just wondered how long it hung around!

    August 22, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

  5. Comment by Joanne B Kaar:

    Wow! It looks in such good condition. I love using kakishibu – so delighted to find your blog.

    January 3, 2013 @ 5:53 am