Professor Emerita, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, UNC Chapel Hill

Month: March 2022

Have Fun with Kaishi Paper, a Maiko Favorite

Learning about maiko customs takes us to many delightful Japanese things and their charming uses.  Like the maiko’s thoughtful “stroke of a pen” notes that build friendships in the hanamachi.

In her book Maiko Manners, Kyoko Aihara emphasizes how training by her arts teachers and her okiya mother develops the maiko’s poise. The apprentice also learns ways to use pretty Japanese products common in the past in her daily life. This enhances the maiko’s aura as a figure of nostalgia and tradition.

But, as Aihara also advises, readers can take tips from the maiko’s style to bring elegance into our own lives. Using kaishi 懐紙, a kind of Japanese paper associated  with the tea ceremony, offers one way.  Aihara shows many creative ways to use this lovely paper. Carry these in your handbag, she says, and you’ll find many unexpected uses, too (104).

Intrigued, I also searched online for images and videos. It turns out that there’s online videos that model a host of kaishi uses. They’re well illustrated, so you don’t need to know Japanese to understand them.

Today’s post introduces kaishi.  I wrap up with a few attempts at trying these tips, too.

What are kaishi?

Kaishi for tea ceremony. Posted at Sazen: Peace and Harmony with the joy of tea. Accessed Mar. 20, 2022.

Kaishi are squares of Japanese (washi) paper. Made of natural fibers, they’re soft to the touch. And they’re absorbent. Kaishi are also strong enough to serve as an impromptu plate, bookmark, and for other creative uses, as we will see.

Searching various sites, I found lots on the role of kaishi in the tea ceremony.  Packets of the plain white, folded paper are easy to purchase online.  Apparently, they’re also gendered: men use a larger size than women do.

Kaishi in the Japanese Tea Ceremony

MIMARU Travel Guide. Sept. 27, 2021. A tea ceremony sweet on kaishi.

How do guests at a Japanese tea ceremony use kaishi?  “Julia from Germany” explains in her photo essay for MIMARU Travel Guide.

Julia writes, “Upon bowing while sitting in the traditional seiza style, I was served a Japanese sweet on special paper called kaishi. I received a sweet dumpling called a manju. After I finished eating it, I tucked the kaishi into the breast of my kimono and a nearby woman started preparing the tea with a ritual to purify the utensils.”

Once “an indispensable tool” in Japanese daily life

Holmes of Kyoto. Vol. 7. Mai Mochizuki. Trans. Minna Lin. J-Novel Heart 2021. Posted to Goodreads.

Here’s a fun discovery. I found kaishi history in an unexpected source. In the light mystery novel, Holmes of Kyoto: Vol. 7, by Mai Mochizuki and translated by Minna Lin, one character explains:

“The word kaishi means ‘paper carried inside the kimono.’ Back when kimono were commonly worn, people would carry these around in everyday life. They were an indispensable tool that served the purpose of modern-day tissues, handkerchiefs, and note pads.”

Geiko used kaishi creatively in the past, too. 

Aihara explains how a geiko would twist a kaishi and wrap it around her little finger as a reminder. Seeing it, she’d recall, “Oh yes, my samisen teacher is coming at 3pm.” (107).

Kabuki actors used kaishi in certain roles.  Kaishi also served those who wished to write a short poem.

But let’s get back to the present.  How might we use kaishi today?

Maiko Manners & Kaishi

Macarons on kaishi. Posted to Hakkoubishoku. Oct. 10, 2010.

In Maiko Manners, Kyoko Aihara gives over 20 clever ways to use kaishi in daily life.  Most aim to make little moments in dining lovelier and cleaner. One can imagine a maiko in her formal costume using these tips to maintain her “maiko-like” (maiko rashii) performance, as I discuss in Maiko Masquerade.  Especially on outings to restaurants with favored clients.

What are some examples?  You might fold a kaishi into a rest for your chopsticks or to brush off bits of food clinging to chopsticks. Use kaishi to wipe your hands or to clean dribbles on the table. Wrap chopsticks after use.  Press kaishi against your mouth when you feel a cough coming one.

Want to show that you’re not having any sake at a party?  Place your sake cup upside down on kaishi.  A chic signal.

Aihara describes how in Germany, she happened to use a kaishi when eating a cookie.  Curious, her German friends asked, “What’s that lovely paper?” Aihara uses this example to show how using kaishi, especially the kind with cheerful patterns, can give observers, too, a feeling of ease and comfort (107).

Kaishi make the practical pretty as memo paper

Kyoto store Tsujitoku recommends its kaishi for memo writing. Accessed Mar. 23, 2022.

Aihara advises using kaishi for a quick message. Imagine you happen to visit a friend only to find she’s out. Just pen a short note on this distinctive paper to say you missed her. Tsujitoku of Kyoto recommends this as a chic practice, too.

                      It’s very fashionable to use kaishi for memos     
                                                                  –TSUJITOKU, Kyoto store website


Putting Kaishi Tips into Practice…and some failed attempts

My kaishi readings made me eager to try out these tips myself.  I used kaishi that I had bought in Kyoto a few years back, but had no idea how to use.  This packet of spring-green kaishi with chicks is the featured image today, too.

Use Kaishi as a Bookmark (shiori). This is an easy one!

Kaishi bookmark (shiori). Jan Bardsley. Mar. 20, 2022.

Use Kaishi to Blot a Damp Brow. Hello Kitty Assists.

Mar. 20, 2022.

Kaishi for a quick “note to self”

Kaishi memo. Jan Bardsley. Mar. 22, 2022.

Kaishi are perfect for wrapping cash tips. I enjoy following this Japanese custom, though I usually use small envelopes.

Kaishi as tip wrapper. Jan Bardsley. Mar. 22, 2022.

Kaishi — handy for eating fruit at a picnic lunch. (But maybe not for Sumo Mikan).

Attack of the sumo mikan. Jan Bardsley. Mar. 22, 2022.

Guides to using kaishi advise placing fruit peels on the paper.  Nice for a picnic lunch.  I tried it with the fruit on hand, a Sumo Mikan.  This seedless, sweet kind of satsuma orange is also called dekopon. Oops! Not the small fruit the kaishi guides show.  Here, the poor chick looks distraught. The Attack of the Sumo Mikan!

The Fun of Kaishi

Kaishi paper. Jan Bardsley Mar. 20, 2022.

Online, we see many more ideas for bringing this bit of Japanese paper prettiness into daily life. Kaishi transform the humdrum and practical into moments of pleasure.

FEATURED IMAGE:  Patterned kaishi purchased in Kyoto in 2019 at Washi Kurabu:    Washi Kurabu has a beautiful website, too.


Aihara Kyoko. Gokujō sahō de miseru maiko-san manā-shū [Maiko Manners: The First-rate Etiquette that Enchants].  Sankaido, 2007.

Mochizuki Mai. Translated by Minna Lin. Holmes in Kyoto. Vol. 7.
J-Novel Heart, 2021.  (The series is also in manga and anime formats).

Jan Bardsley, “Have Fun with Kaishi Paper, a Maiko Favorite.” Mar. 31, 2022.

The Kimono Tattoo Wins Indie Book Award

Happy news for fans of mystery writer Rebecca Copeland.  Her book The Kimono Tattoo has won the 2022 Independent Press Award in the category of Multi-Cultural Fiction.

Silk unravels. A tattoo is forever.
Layer by layer the truth is revealed.
                         —  The Kimono Tattoo

A fast-paced mystery set in Kyoto, The Kimono Tattoo  follows American translator Ruth Bennett on her risky quest for the truth about a bizarre murder. Ruth’s expertise in kimono history and fluency in Japanese give her the tools.  Her host of friends come to her aid. Readers enjoy traversing Kyoto, too. From ancient temple grounds to convenience stores and hidden tattoo parlors, we’re soon on the beat with Ruth.

Let’s catch up with Rebecca Copeland to get her thoughts on this well-deserved Indie Award.

What is the Independent Press Award?

JB: Congratulations, Rebecca.   What’s the story of this award?

RC:  Thanks, Jan.  The Independent Press Award aims to bring attention to independent publishers across the country and the great variety of books they publish. I’m grateful to my publisher Brother Mockingbird for nominating The Kimono Tattoo.

The Independent Press Award recognizes excellence by category. As you can imagine, they need lots of categories to cover the myriad kinds of books published every year.  There’s action and adventure, horror, historical fiction, advice guides, and many more. The Kimono Tattoo won in “Multicultural-Fiction.”

Experiencing Multicultural Kyoto — Past and Present

Kyoto Trademark: Maiko. Posted to Wikimedia Commons by Bermi Ferrer. Oct. 15, 2010.

A window on how people experience cultural identity…
a sense of home and belonging

JB:  Thinking about The Kimono Tattoo as multicultural gives me a new way to look at your mystery.  One that draws on my own experiences of Kyoto.

I recognized the mystery’s setting and the kinds of characters right away…..well, except for the criminal ones…from my times in Kyoto and the people I met. There’s the lead, Ruth, a bilingual American expat, and her sidekick Maho, who feels more American than Japanese, and the elegant Japanese entrepreneur, Mrs. Shibasaki.  This kind of “expat in Japan” circle felt so familiar to me.

But, in fact, The Kimono Tattoo does more than that. You give us a window on how people experience cultural identity and work to achieve a sense of home and belonging.

Creating complex characters

The Kimono Tattoo, 2021.

RC:  Thanks for that point.  Yes, as I imagined Ruth and the other characters, I inevitably mapped them onto my understandings of Japan society, especially its literary traditions and kimono design world.  And I built some — especially Ruth and Maho — around lives shaped by bilingual and bicultural experiences.  But I also saw each character as unique, as more than the sum of their language, education, and social class.

The Brilliant, Elusive Satoko —  Mastermind of the “Kimono Tattoo”

JB:  Satoko, the elusive mastermind behind the “kimono tattoo,” certainly strikes me as motivated by more than her background and even her family’s commercial involvement with kimono. She’s a brilliant artist. And her creativity ties her to the material and cultural history of kimono, and even ghosts!

Unlined Kimono for a Woman (Hitoe) Motif: Swallows flying over and streams (1910-1920). Khalili Collections. Wikimedia Commons.

RC:  I find Satoko’s trajectory fascinating, too.  Part of the fun of writing The Kimono Tattoo came from doing the research needed to depict that history well and to invent new legends that furthered my own plot and helped build Satoko’s character.

JB:  In that way, The Kimono Tattoo  not only opens our eyes to the multicultural interactions of people in contemporary Kyoto but invites us to consider a multicultural past.  Japanese characters and customs do not emerge as monolithic or uncomplicated.  That is, we learn about customs, dance, fashion, family structures, and even Japanese literature, too.

RC:  Thank you for noticing that.  So many in the States still think of Japan as such a remote and strange place.  I’ve spent my career—as have you—trying to make Japan more approachable, teaching students about Japanese culture while at the same time challenging them to think more deeply about their own cultural practices and biases.  Travel is one way we learn more about ourselves!

A novel slips readers into a new space

I hope that The Kimono Tattoo will carry readers to Kyoto, enticing them to learn more about Japanese culture. At the same time perhaps it will push readers to question their own assumptions and misunderstandings.  I don’t know. It’s a lot to ask!  And I want the novel to also be “entertaining.”  I think that’s what distinguishes the novel from my earlier academic books.  A novel slips readers into a new space without making too many demands, and before they know it, they’re walking around in a different world.

The Kimono Tattoo – An Official Book Club Pick for June

Official Selection. The Intl Pulpwood Queen & Timber Guy Book Club, June 2022.

JB:  I see, too, Rebecca, that The Kimono Tattoo has earned yet another honor!  It’s been chosen as the “International Book of the Month” for the month of June by the International Pulpwood Queens and Timberguys Book Club.

RC:   Yes!  I was so excited about that.  The International Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy Book Club is the largest book club in the world with regular meetings and discussions.  There are over 800 chapters with 20 chapters in foreign countries.

The Club holds an annual convention. This year the convention was virtual with zoom meetings all day long for a week!  My publisher and I were invited to have a conversation about The Kimono Tattoo on one of the afternoons.  The amount of participation and enthusiasm for BOOKS and for reading that this Book Club generates is truly invigorating.  It’s an honor to have The Kimono Tattoo represent the month of June.

JB:  Congratulations again on these honors, Rebecca.  And I can’t wait to read the next of Ruth’s adventures.

Rebecca Copeland

For more on how Rebecca Copeland created The Kimono Tattoo, visit her blog:

For my other interviews with Rebecca, see these past posts:

Dance, Mystery, and Murder in The Kimono Tattoo

Yamamba: In Search of Japan’s Mountain Witch

Jan Bardsley. “The Kimono Tattoo Wins Indie Award.” March 24, 2022.




The Kimono for Ukraine

It’s Girls’ Day, time for the “Doll Festival.”   A day to celebrate girls at play, having fun with other girls, and enjoying the coming of spring.  In Japan, I often had the privilege of visiting homes to see the classic doll arrangement and hear stories about how friends had collected their dolls.

Hina doll celebration by Mizuno Toshikata, ca.1900.” Judy Shoaf.

If only  children everywhere had the freedom to play with dolls, today.  The fear and violence gripping Ukraine remind us of children there and around the world robbed of their safety.

Looking for connections among Ukraine and maiko, I discovered that in 1971, Kyoto and Kyiv became sister cities.  “Ukrainian folk music groups have held joint concerts with Kyoto citizens, while tea ceremony practitioners and teachers from Kyoto have visited Kyiv,” according to The Japan Times.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, Japanese reached out to the citizens of Odessa, Ukraine, survivors of the Chernobyl tragedy, who, in turn, sent donations to Japan.  The Washington Post reports that in recent days, protests in Japan, including  in Kyoto, and throughout Asia have voiced support for Ukraine. Japanese are also sending donations to Ukraine.

Today’s post, “The Kimono for Ukraine”  takes us back to a recent and hopeful moment for world peace.  For this post, I tried to learn about auspicious Ukrainian symbols — sunflowers, storks, and Easter eggs.

The Kimono Project  –  Art Transcending Boundaries

Imagine One World. Posted on Facebook. Accessed March 3, 2022.

Initiated in 2014 by Imagine One World Organization, the Kimono Project aimed to honor the 2020/21 Olympic and Paralympic Games held in Tokyo.   Yoshimasa Takakura, a third-generation kimono designer from Fukuoka,  headed the project.  Initially, he wanted to see 206 kimono, one for each country participating in the Olympics. In the end, it appears that 213 kimono were created.

According to Inspirations, Takakura came up with the Kimono Project idea after participating in a fashion show in Paris in 2013.  Here, he showed kimono designs that blended 18th century Japanese flower motifs by Itō Jakuchū  with art nouveau.  This moment inspired Takakura to imagine a transnational project honoring diverse cultures through kimono.

You can see the kimono displayed online:

The Project was awarded the Diplomas of Honor from the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports in Ukraine (Wikipedia).

The Kimono for Ukraine Features Sunflowers

The sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower,
is becoming a global symbol of solidarity

Washington Post, March 2, 2022

Now “a global symbol of resistance, unity and hope,”  many are wearing sunflowers (real and artificial) to show their support for Ukraine (Washington Post).  First Lady Jill Biden wore a blue dress with sunflower at one cuff to the State of the Union address on March 2.  Many members of Congress also wore sunflower charms or the yellow and blue colors of Ukraine.

We see these colors, and of course, glorious sunflowers on the kimono for Ukraine designed by Masanobu Oota.

The Kimono for Ukraine Designed by Masanobu Oota 太田正伸

View online at

Ukraine kimono. Sponspr Ide Shunta. Imagine OneWorld Project. Sora News July 30, 2021.

Notice the storks on the kimono, magical symbols of prosperity and protection in Ukraine. We see embroidered flowers on the kimono sleeve (see detail below) as found in Ukrainian folk costumes.

Author Marek Silarski. Ukrainians in from Maramureș Mountains (Inner Eastern Carpathians, north of Romania) wearing the regional folk-costume of Poltava in central Ukraine; photo – village Mokre, 2007. Wikimedia.


Ukrainian Easter Eggs in Obi Designed by Nishijin-Maizuru

Nishijin-Maizuru, Ltd.

Detail of obi by Nishijin-Maizuru, Ltd.

Handcrafted with the Nishijin-ori technique, the obi’s motif displays pysanka, Ukrainian Easter Eggs. The Ukrainian Museum explains how in ancient times women and girls would decorate fertilized eggs. Each color and symbol had meaning. No longer considered talismans today, they are appreciated as beautiful art objects.

Detail from obi for Ukraine.

Ukrainian Easter Eggs. The Ukrainian Museum, 2010.


FEATURED IMAGE:  Sunflowers. Odessa, Ukraine. Jul 4, 2012. Author Анатолий Зубанюк.
Wikimedia Commons.

Jan Bardsley, “The Kimono for Ukraine,”  March 3, 2022.


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