What is hyogu?

A traditional craft enabling the preservation and appreciation of artwork

Hyogu refers to the ancient eastern craft of mounting pieces of calligraphy, paintings, or other works of art onto scrolls, frames, or folding screens in order to preserve and display them. Sliding doors (fusuma) and booklets may also be used. Hyogu boasts an old history, beginning before the Qin Dynasty in China (280-420 AD) and being brought to Japan in the Nara period (6th to 7th centuries AD) along with Buddhism in the form of sutra scrolls.

Hyogu developed at first in Japan primarily in the context of sutra scrolls, but was further developed in the Heian Period (8th to 12th century) for use of emaki (picture scrolls). In the Kamakura Period (12th to 14th century) the craft was influenced by Zen culture and inkbrush paintings, while the Muromachi Period (14th to 16th century) saw the beginning of the tokonoma, the alcove in traditional Japanese rooms where scrolls are hung. This evolution of calligraphy and painting, resulting in the scroll as we know it today, heavily influenced the craft of hyogu at various points in Japanese history. Key historical figures in the Japanese arts, such as Sen no Rikyu and his tea ceremony, feudal lords in the Edo Period (17th to 19th century), as well as lovers of traditional Japanese arts following the Meiji Restoration (1868), all contributed to a highly refined, quintessentially Japanese aesthetic for hyogu.

A number of factors combine to make Kyoto the perfect environment for the craft of hyogu, from aesthetic and cultural influences such the imperial court that flourished here in the Heian Period to the presence of other refined cultural traditions, such as Nishijin woven fabrics and Yoshino paper. Even Kyoto’s humid climate helps contribute to a perfect environment for the art, making “Kyoto hyogu” synonymous with the highest levels of craftsmanship since the modern era.

A bare piece of calligraphy or painting cannot be preserved or appreciated by itself. The craft of hyogu is dedicated to protecting and displaying various works of art so that their beauty may be enjoyed for a long time to come. Among the techniques at the hyogu master’s disposal are those for restoration of damaged paper or frames, so that an artwork’s beauty may be preserved and rejuvenated.