The tradition of copying evolved in Kyoto over centuries through woodblock prints and reproductions of artworks. A 17th-century monk etched 60,000 woodblocks with sutras to promulgate Buddhist teaching. The collotype printing technique faithfully reproduces Kyoto's famed works of art. One initiative uses the latest scanning technology to preserve historical buildings and Buddhist statues as 3D digital data. Discover the techniques and aesthetics in copying through the people involved in the art.
Copying - the beauty within the art of making exact replicas.
These old woodblocks are still used to make copies of sutras.
They come to a total of 60,000.
Each block, and each character,
is filled with the hope- that they fulfill their role
of passing on the sutras.
An analog technique is used to create faithful reproductions of paintings.
They have life.
The originals are impressive.
As a collotype technician, it’s bliss
to get the copies close to perfection.
Cutting-edge technology is used to make 3D renditions of buildings with no blueprints.
My upmost aim is to pass on
cultural assets to the future.
They are vital for posterity Core Kyoto delves into the art and aesthetics of the century-old Kyoto tradition of copying.
Buddhist monks chant as they unfurl accordion books of sutras.
This service is dedicated to chanting the Daihan'nyakyou sutras, which cover 600 volumes with a total of around 5 million characters.
Sutras comprise Buddha's teachings and doctrine on how people should think and live for their happiness.
They are chanted in the hope of fulfilling Buddha's way.
Houzou-in of the Oubaku school stores printing blocks carved with the sutras in a repository on the temple precincts.
The hand-carved blocks number 60,000 and hold the entire collection of Buddhist sutras.
17th-century Zen monk Tetsugen Doukou dedicated his life to carving them.
There was no printing technology
back then, so manuscripts were basically
copied by hand.
And of course that took
time and effort.
One or two hundred copies could
be printed with one block at once – enabling swift and wide distribution.
Tetsugen traveled throughout the country soliciting donations.
With the support he gained, he completed all 60,000 blocks in 13 years.
Two pages on each the front and back,
which gives a total of 1,600 characters.
Some of the blocks are still used for printing manually.
Tetsugen used wild cherry trees found in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture, for their hardness and resistance to wear and tear.
Yano Toshiyuki has been printing sutras for 45 years.
The resulting page boasts print so clear that it is hard to imagine the blocks were carved 350 years ago.
It’s a blessing to be able to work
with precious printing blocks.
To think that printers, like me, once used
the same blocks we use to carry on the tradition.
However, storing the printing blocks now presents problems.
There is insufficient temperature and humidity control in the current repository, which has no air conditioning, so the blocks have developed cracks and mold,
and are in danger of deteriorating.
To preserve the blocks for posterity, the temple is seeking cooperation in their preservation through tours and events to convey Tetsugen's aspirations.
The blocks are treasures because they
ooze the passion of their creator.
It’s the first time I’ve seen inside, and it’s
evident that everyone needs to band together.
Each of the 60,000 woodblocks
in there is unique.
Each block, and each character,
is filled with Tetsugen’s hope- that they fulfill their role
of passing on the sutras.
This shop is awash with colorful postcards and artworks.
These postcards are elaborate reproductions of original art.
Despite their small size, they lose none of the beauty of the originals.
These color postcards were printed
using the collotype technique.
Each color is layered,
like woodblock prints.
Collotype is a printing process invented in France in the mid-19th century to print black-and-white photographs.
Two printing companies in Japan specialize in the process, both located in Kyoto.
One was established in 1887.
The company uses the collotype process to print postcards featuring Kyoto landmarks.
These postcards from 115 years ago
were popular at the time.
Collotype's characteristics are obvious when compared to today's offset printing.
When magnified, you can see the four-color,
halftone dots in today’s printed matter.
With collotype, there are no dots
when the photo is magnified.
For example, the clothes people
are wearing look extremely smooth.
That’s a distinct feature.
Collotype landscape postcards with their rich, tonal gradations were popular.
However, with the advent of color offset and mass printing, monochrome collotype fell out of favor.
To keep the process relevant, the company succeeded in developing its own technique for collotype printing in color.
It applied the tonal expression and outstanding light resistance of pigmented ink to reproducing artworks, and the company has since been involved in reproducing famed cultural assets and national treasures.
Many colors are impossible to
reproduce with four-color dot printing.
But collotype demonstrates
its advantage by- expressing all the rich gradations
and textures as they are.
Here, the printers prepare the printing plates.
Gelatin is central to the collotype process.
Gelatin mixed with photosensitizer is poured onto the glass plates and evenly coated by hand.
A photographed negative of the original is placed on the dry plate which is then exposed to ultraviolet light through the negative.
The gelatin underneath hardens to different degrees depending on the level of exposure.
The more exposure, the harder the gelatin.
Once the plates are ready, printing can begin.
The gelatin surface in actual fact
is slightly uneven.
So, we add water to the gelatin
to accentuate the unevenness, then add oil-based ink
to create the shading.
That’s how collotype works.
Only 500 copies can be printed per day, because each layer is printed by hand while adjusting the old-fashioned pigmented ink.
This is only the first color.
One gelatin-coated plate is prepared for each color in the original.
As with woodblock printing, colors are layered to recreate subtle, nuanced hues and fine brush strokes.
Here, we applied red
in the background, and applying blue over it
brings the red to life.
Reproducing the order the colors
were used, as close as possible, and expressing the original’s texture
is an idiosyncrasy of collotype.
Toufuku-ji, the headquarters of the Rinzai school of Buddhism, holds a grand service commemorating the temple's foundation on October 17.
The portrait of the school and temple's founder displayed on this day is one of Yamamoto's collotype reproductions.
We have the original which was painted
about six centuries ago.
But the wear and tear is quite obvious, so we safely store it and use
this reproduction in its stead.
The color in this part here had peeled off,
but it has been splendidly recreated.
Some would think that
a digital print would suffice.
But I think having a human manually
execute every stage in the process, checking each detail
with their own eyes, is extremely important.
This is a replica of the yuige, or Chinese poetic verse, the temple's founder wrote the day he died.
"Over 79 years, I admonished and preached
the teachings for the sake of humankind."
"However, the Zen state of mind cannot
be conveyed with mere words."
"It is through personal experience
that you can arrive at that point."
You have many works by
esteemed historical figures.
They have life.
The originals are impressive.
It’s laborious to
faithfully reproduce them.
As a collotype technician, it’s immensely
satisfying to get them close to perfection.
With time and worshippers' devotion, the replica will hold a precious place in people’s hearts.
Sanpou-in is a sub-temple of Daigo-ji, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This image was created using 3D measurement data of the temple.
One company uses this state-of-the art technology in a new initiative.
Nishimura Kazuya heads a company that uses 3D scanning technology to preserve cultural properties.
We used this 3D measuring apparatus
to assess the precincts and buildings.
It uses laser at 100s of 1000s of points
per second to gather data- on solid objects,
rather than create flat images.
With an accuracy of one millimeter, the device can collect data on a building's shape, color, and even texture from any angle.
Looking now, we are only
capturing the exterior.
If we also capture the interior,
merge both sets of data, and edit them
the inside and out will be connected
and we can move freely throughout.
To date, Nishimura's company has captured 30 buildings and 50 Buddhist statues.
They have also captured Noh masks and other objects.
Detailed measurements can be read from each set of data for the conservation of cultural assets.
When disasters hit and cultural
properties are destroyed, it’s easy to draw up blueprints
with the 3D data.
When it comes time
for them to be rebuilt, it speeds up the process and
it’s easier to adjust measurements.
As you can see, it’s also easier to
recreate the design, coloring, and texture.
There are no existing plans
for the main gate.
We only have the photos
we’ve taken ourselves.
With the 3D data, if anything
should happen, we can rebuild.
Nishimura once ran a company in Kumamoto on the southern island of Kyushu that surveyed buildings, bridges, and other structures.
In April 2016, an earthquake registering magnitude 7.3 on the Richter scale hit Kumamoto.
That’s precisely what happened
during the Kumamoto quake.
Being on an active fault line, my home
was totally destroyed, as was my office.
You have Aso Jinja in
the Aso district of Kumamoto.
The prayer hall and gate collapsed
straight after the quake, and a year later there was still
no plan to rebuild the main gate.
There was a newspaper article
appealing for photos and videos.
Why? There were no blueprints,
so they wanted to use them to draw up plans.
That was my incentive
for this undertaking.
Nishimura promptly acted to change the focus of his work by using the 3D scanning device he already owned to scan culturally important structures.
In 2017, he moved his operations to Kyoto, which has a multitude of cultural properties.
On this day, Nishimura is using what is called a "3D scanner arm" - one of a handful available in Japan.
He is measuring an 800-year-old Buddhist statue said to have been carved by the monk Unkei and its four companion statues.
The data is transferred to a computer on the spot so the task can be monitored in real-time.
Some of the undercoat beneath the gold
has peeled off. The surface is uneven.
Most of it is actually imperceptible.
These invisible details become clearer
when the data is decolorized.
Nishimura has another motivation for wanting to preserve cultural assets.
Anyone who’s experienced
a disaster will understand- that cultural assets bring people
together. They’re like symbols.
Once they’re gone,
the town loses its vitality.
Summer festivals are carried on and statues
cared for generations, but disasters naturally cause a break.
The loss of cultural properties
means the lost of culture.
When that happens, links between
people weaken and eventually break.
I believe it’s very important
to save these for posterity.
Back at the printing firm that specializes in the color collotype process, a collotype workshop is being held on this day.
Participants get hands-on experience copying their own pictures using simple collotype printers.
Printer Yamamoto Osamu established the Collotype Academy in the hopes of perpetuating the craft.
Good. "Totemo ii desu." Very good.
Photographers around the world are drawn to collotype printing.
Yamamoto's company holds an annual international photo competition and works together with artists to create photographic works of art using collotype.
Photographer Mazuki Youko is fascinated by collotype printing.
When she first attended a workshop, she was captivated by the expressiveness of collotype prints.
Since then, she has traveled from Tokyo several times to participate again.
A sense of time is captured
in the original photo.
With collotype, it’s like another layer
of time is overlaid and, and then time stands still.
That sensation is fascinating.
Originally, only film photos could be printed with collotype, but the company developed technology to allow photos to be printed from digital data.
There are many technologies
that are called "classic," but collotype has greater potential.
That is also very attractive.
Mazuki is currently working on a series of works that merges the human body with plant life.
She is expressing the time, touch, and smell of human skin in her photographs.
This composite piece is a lotus leaf digitally imposed on a photo of a hand.
Now, Mazuki and Yamamoto are working together in a first attempt to make a large collotype print of this photo.
When handling monochrome works, the expression of gradation is of the utmost importance.
Photos with many dark tones, like Mazuki's, are especially hard to print.
You lose the shading if the gelatin
absorbs all the ink from the start.
If the ink doesn’t permeate,
the technique is to slowly add more- and prime the gelatin
to create the desired effect.
To achieve the gradation in the dark parts, black ink is printed one layer at a time, rather than printed it all at once.
Mazuki was particular about expressing the veins in the lotus leaf faintly seen in the background.
The aim is to bring out the shading,
even in the black parts.
Yamamoto suddenly starts breathing on the gelatin-coated plate.
Glass fogs up
when you breathe on it, right?
I’m adding moisture to make it
hard for the oil-based ink to adhere.
Moistening the gelatin adjusts the amount of ink on the paper - a trick for achieving the desired shading.
-It’s visible, right?
I’ll breathe more on it as I go.
This can be a bit darker, I think.
Here? Will it work?
This is tannic acid,
like that in persimmons.
I’m applying the acid.
Your mouth puckers up if you eat
astringent persimmon, right?
Well, gelatin also contracts.
The logic is that it hardens and cannot
absorb moisture, so the ink comes out darker.
Everyone’s been doing it
for more than a century.
Now work for me, please.
Yamamoto-san has a tough task.
Only an artisan like him can do it,
so I’m saying a little prayer.
The area where I applied the tannic acid is
darker than over there, so it’s working.
It’s a bit hard to see, here.
Let’s compare it over there.
Are you happy?
Thank you, very much.
I got the okay.
Thank you, very much.
The culture of copying has changed with the times, absorbing new technologies along the way.
The advances will inspire new creations and propel the art into the future.