Preservation and restoration of Japanese-style painting

Japanese-style painting (nihonga)

The art work collectively known as Japanese-style painting (nihonga) is known as such to distinguish it from European-style painting as of the Meiji Period. What are the differences between European-style painting and nihonga? In brief, the difference lies in the materials used. Originally, the materials and technique used in Japanese-style painting reached Japan from China and the Korean Peninsula via the transmission of Buddhist painting over a millennium ago. Japanese-style paintings are created by attaching items such as natural stones, earth, shells, insects, and plants as well as chemically synthesized materials to clay, linen, silk, paper, boards, etc., using hide glue to attach them. In contrast, European-style painting uses oil as an adhesive instead of hide glue. This difference of adhesives has a significant impact on everything from the composition of the painting to the brushwork, which means that there is a clear distinction between the two categories of Japanese-style painting and Western-style painting.

Japanese-style painting is a form of painting with a long history and tradition. Unfortunately, however, neither these materials nor the technique exist today in the mainland or the Korean Peninsula. These remain only in Japan, making this a rare form of painting in the world today.  

The fight against deterioration

Japanese-style petitioning developed in the Japanese climate of the beautiful and varied four seasons. At the same time, however, the same Japanese climate that gave birth to this type of art is characterized by both high heat and high humidity as well as cold and dryness, causing the glue to come undone and making the art prone to cracking, mold, insect damage, and more. Because of this climate--which renders the artwork inherently weak--it is said that this type of art begins to deteriorate from the moment it is completed. This means that regular repairs must be made on Japanese-style paintings. In other words, the history of Japanese-style painting has been a “history of repairs.”

However, prior to the time when Japanese-style painting was recognized as a cultural asset and a form of great art, the repairs were performed primarily for visual effect. In contrasts, the repairs that are performed today are done with reverence for the original and to maintain the value of this work as cultural legacy and as art, while at the same time ensuring that traditional restoration techniques are passed on.

Meanwhile, computer engineering also holds a great deal of promise in the fields of preservation and scenario-building research, potentially contributing greatly to preservation and restoration in the future.  

Japanese-style painting, preservation and restoration techniques conveyed to the world

Restoration techniques used in Japanese-style painting are used in the preservation of cultural treasures around the world such as murals. In the future, preservation and restoration techniques used in Japan will likely spread around the world. Japanese-style paint restoration techniques and philosophy are now being applied more and more to the perseveration of the art left to us by our ancestors around the globe, and to the process of passing cultural treasures on to future generations of mankind.