Day 2: Suzuki Shofudo, a 120 year-old Katazome Paper Store in Kyoto

Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper

“NIPPON NI IKITAI!!” – this part of a series of posts and I highly recommend you start from the beginning of this crazy story: Re: Japanese media inquiry, Possible Filming Request


Day two! I couldn’t believe I’d only been in Japan for one full day – it was still a “Mystery Tour” so I had no idea what was planned, but the director assured me that I would enjoy it. It started with a van ride to downtown Kyoto, which was full of beautiful old temples and shrines right up next to modern buildings. We pulled up to a nondescript street and the director and camerapersons got out to get everything ready at the film site, leaving me with the translator and assistant to get my microphone set up. This involved wearing an elastic belt under my skirt and then taping the small microphone under my dress up near the neckline – a little awkward! I thought the microphone was related to the filming, but in fact it was a wireless mic that went straight to an earpiece in my translator’s ear! That way she could hear me even if she was standing far away from the camera, and she could hear what the other person was saying, too. She would rapidly write notes in shorthand to refer to when it was translating time (that would usually happen at a natural pause in the conversation). I had to make sure to maintain eye contact with the person speaking to me in Japanese rather than look at the translator so that when they edited everything and overdubbed my voice there would be good continuity in the shots.

The director came back to the van and said “Ok Ruth-san! So please, take this umbrella and you will walk down the street until you see something…interesting!” and I was like “uhhh…ok, and then what?” and she said “Don’t worry! just go!” so I am slowly strolling down a commercial street, saying things like “oh wow, look at that….drink machine…” and from far back down the street the director is shouting, “not that Ruth san! keep going” “Hmmmmm…look at that…ummm cool clothing store!” “KEEP GOING RUTH SAN!” and then “mmm…ok well look at that neat potted plant – OH MY GOSH IS THAT A PAPER STORE OH WOW!!! LOOK IN THERE!” and I didn’t have to feign any enthusiasm at all as I practically plastered myself against the window glass to get a better look, like a kid in a candy store. By then everyone was laughing, including myself and the director was like “GO INSIDE AND PRACTICE YOUR GREETING!” and I walked into this absolutely gorgeous paper store called Suzuki Shofudo:

Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper

I met the owner (on the right) and manager (on the left) and even managed to say “Konichiwa” (hello) and “watashi no namae wa Ruth” (my name is Ruth) and “yoroshiku onegai itashimasu” (thank you for meeting me/ pleasure to meet you) without stumbling too badly!

Then I got a tour of the shop and I was able to ask all the questions I wanted – things like “how long has your store been open?” and I was shocked and amazed when the owner replied “126 years” – wow! When I asked if they had always sold decorative paper, I learned that the family business started by making paper tubes! In fact they said they used to be the main supplier of paper tubes used to roll kimono fabric on back in the Edo period of the late 1800’s. Kyoto is well known for it’s fabric dyeing, especially a stencil technique called “Kata Yuzen”. The royal court and Japanese upper class enjoyed the fabric patterns so much that they had paper made to match the fabric so that they could use it to wrap gifts and make household items. This store specialized in stencil-dyed handmade paper called “Katazome” that I absolutely love but that is relatively rare in the US. You can order it online, but it’s very rare to see it in a paper store here.

Here’s a lovely fabric-lined passport holder I purchased at Suzuki Shofudo that made from katazome paper – it’s very sturdy and continues to hold up well:

Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper

The shop also had a history of making beautiful paper packaging like this red and white paper box that features a raised shrimp design:

Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper - Ebi Shrimp Box Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper - Cat Egg DollsRuth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper - cat egg doll

Here we have paper cat dolls made from blown out eggshells! They were light as a feather and the “fur” was made from tiny pieces of handmade paper – they were so adorable of course I had to have one!

These tiny gift boxes contained a famous type of candy made in Kyoto called “Konpeito” that is thought to have been brought to Japan by Portugese traders in the 16th century. It kinda looks like a pastel version of “Nerds” candy that we have here, but prettier.

Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper - candy boxes

When the owner found out JUST how much I love paper, he invited me to come look at some of the sample books he had from his paper suppliers – he even allowed me to take some photos – I get excited just watching this video of me flipping through a fat stack of chiyogami paper. When I asked him how many patterns he thought there were, he laughed and said “oh thousands…thousands!” – fast forward to 1:00 mark and you can see more chiyogami paper than you’ve ever seen in your life:

Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper

I picked out about 20 sheets of paper from this rack to buy after our filming was done, and they even had a really cool informational spot to show how the paper was made, but we didn’t have enough time for me to ask about it – or more specifically, when I tried to ask about it, the director told me it was FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE…ok? “Part of the mystery!”:

Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper - how Katazome is made

Well, moving on…Look at all that cozy lighting! Also see all the tubes making up the paper rack? Those are the kind of tubes made by the company back in the day that made them so famous – also I wondered how in the world they were going to get down some of the paper for me, but they had it stored in decorative tubes below the display, so all I had to do was point at the ones I wanted:

 

Ruth visits Suzuki Shofudo in Kyoto Japan for Katazome Washi Paper

If you’d like to visit Suzuki Shofudo the address is:

409/410 Izutsuya-cho, Yanaginobanba-dori Rokkaku-sagaru, Chukyo-ku, Kyoto

They also teach classes!

The staff there spoke English too, so if you visit I’m sure you’ll have an easy time and find many wonderful things to take home.


After our big day at the paper store I joined the film crew to go out to a local pub and had dinner and beers, but the dinner was much, much different (and healthier!) than the fries and burgers we consider “bar food”. This type of restaurant was called an “izakaya” and specialized in small plates – kind of like Tapas, but way more sushi, and the sushi was super cheap, like $5 a plate. Plus they served the salmon sashimi with mayo and lemon! (in addition to soy sauce and wasabi) Also, it was the first time I’ve ever had a raw shrimp, but that was pretty good too! I was happy to try everything at least once (especially after a couple of those draft beers). Everyone got their own small dish and then you’d put one or two bites of food on your own plate from the communal plates and then eat from there. There was no “loading up” of your own plate – it wasn’t like a buffet! haha.

Another interesting note is that several folks on the crew were smokers and they allowed smoking inside but they had these enormous ventilation fans set in the ceiling that drew the smoke up and away from the tables so it really wasn’t noticeable:

Izakaya in Kyoto - 1 salmon sushi in Kyoto - 1Izakaya in Kyoto - 2

Draft beer in Japan is always served in these glass steins with a 2 inch foam layer on it – think of the comic strip “Hagar the Horrible” – it’s also always a malt beer, like Kirin Ichiban or Ashai and very easy drinking. We ate until we were full and then caught a ride on the van back to the hotel!

“For tomorrow…wear pants” said the director, cryptically. “And maybe something you can work in”

 

TO BE CONTINUED!

Also, just in case you think I am making it look super easy to adjust to a 13 hour time difference and being filmed all day, here’s a selfie I took during our lunch break, feeling like a zombie (Along with the funny tagline on the napkin of the cafe where we ate) MMMMMmmmm…let your tastes sour! My mood was quickly lifted by a double espresso:

jetlag in kyoto

 


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