Reproducing Japanese National Treasures. It is intricate and delicate work by professionals.

Mr. Masaki Ozaki, Deputy Director of Collotype Academy, Benrido Co.,Ltd.

I first learned about the world of collotype at the Toraya Kyoto Gallery. The high level of technology used to reproduce national treasures is passed down by generations of craftspeople over many years. I visited Benrido, and I was able to hear about the story of the collotype printing from Mr. Ozaki of the Collotype Academy.

Back then, the world of the reproduction of national treasures was unknown for me.

“I joined Benrido about 16 years ago. I was somehow interested in the company which had published art books. I studied design in Tokushima, but I didn’t major in Art or Japanese Painting. I joined the company as an assistant at their printing workshop.”
Back then, he had never imagined of becoming involved in reproducing national treasures, however, he was gradually drawn to the uniqueness of the collotype printing process, such as making a plate with gelatin for each color, and printing, with special ink, one-color layer at a time. He found the process fascinating.

Collotype Printing Process

Challenging work of reproducing the mural paintings of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus

In 1972, mural paintings were discovered in Takamatsuzuka Tumulus in Asukamura, Nara Prefecture. The following day, Benrido’s craftspeople went there to take photographs.
45 years later, in 2017, Mr. Ozaki took in charge of the project to revive the mural paintings as a full-scale reproduction in color, using the photo film of 1972.
“Originally collotype printing was exclusively for monochrome. But if you shoot in color, you are able to make a color collotype print. It is a unique technology that Benrido has developed. However, it can be difficult to reproduce vivid colors depending on the item.”
I said that there should not be a problem, if color photographs were taken at the time of discovery. He replied, “Certainly, I was impressed by their skill. Even though the photographs were taken in the dark small stone room long time ago, they are in focus. However, when I showed the color photos to the those present at the discovery, they told me that they did not represent reality at the time of discovery. They said that the luster and the colors were different.”
It turned out to be a very difficult task from this point. There were no color samples. In other words, in order to reproduce accurate images of the time of discovery, we had to draw on the memory of those who witnessed the discovery. “Professor Yoshitaka Ariga, Supervisor of the project, remembered them vividly. He said that the stone chamber which had been closed completely was very humid, and the colors of the discovered paintings were vibrant and glossy.”
Based on these recollections, and on the records of pigments depicted in books from the time of discovery, they started reproducing accurately. For the mural painting of a group of women on the west wall, they started with black and sepia as the base, then they printed more than 10 colors in layers: vivid pink, yellow, green, red, and so on. At the end, beautiful women in vivid colors were reborn.

A full-scale reproduction of the entire west wall of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus. 
The east wall, the north wall, and the ceiling are also reproduced.
A full-scale reproduction of the entire west wall of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus.
The east wall, the north wall, and the ceiling are also reproduced.

Rimpa’s gorgeous masterpiece returns home as a reproduction.

The year before the reproduction of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus, Mr. Ozaki also worked on reproducing Korin Ogata’s “Fujin Raijin (Wind God and Thunder God),” which is a replica of Sotatsu Tawaraya’s masterpiece.
Originally, Hoitsu Sakai painted “Natsuakikusazu (Flowering Plants of Summer and Autumn)” on the back of Ogata’s “Fujin Raijin.” Therefore, it was one folding screen with two paintings, one on the front and the other on the back. But now, they separated them into two screens in order to preserve them better. The project Mr. Ozaki worked on was to reproduce the original.
“Again, for this project, I had a difficult time in terms of colors. For example, for the shades of the clouds, the artist used a Japanese painting technique called tarashikomi. Therefore, I really wanted to see the real one. The Tokyo National Museum sent me a photo data of the artwork, from which I calibrated colors and made a plate. Then I went to Tokyo with it. Although I was allowed to stay in front of the painting only for 30 minutes, I was able to compare the colors and observe the movements of the brush. Surprisingly, thickness of the color was different here and there. And that gave it a three-dimensional effect.”
They reproduced the powerful and rich “Fujin Raijin”, which appears to be moving. They printed in eight colors in layers. Finally, on the surface, they placed gold leaf and added other touches of color by hand. They completed the folding screen by attaching the other painting, Hoitsu Sasaki’s “Natsuakikusazu,” on the back. At last, the reproduction of the masterpiece returned home to Kyoto.

Collotype full-scale reproduction of double-sided folding screen
“Wind God and Thunder God” by Korin Ogata
“Flowering Plants of Summer and Autumn” by Hoitsu Sakai

Exhibition at The Museum of Kyoto
Collection: Kyoto Prefecture

I want to reproduce the artworks that were taken overseas

Several ongoing projects are in progress now. He is very busy every day. I asked him about his future plans.
“There are many Japanese artworks that were taken overseas. Ukiyo-e and other paintings are occasionally exhibited. But there are many other artworks, such as folding screens, which Japanese people have never seen. I want to reproduce those artworks, so that they may be seen in Japan, where they originated, not only in textbooks. I want people to see that there were such wonderful artworks created in Japan.”
Collotype printing will continue to take its own path centered on the reproduction of national treasures. However, it is used not only for the historic artworks, but also for the works of contemporary artists, as it has come to fruition as art books and portfolios. For the succession and development of Japanese culture, the work of Benrido will become increasingly relevant. We hope to let more people know about the cultural value of collotype printing. I am certain that everyone who is aware of its importance would agree.

Mr. Masaki Ozaki, Deputy Director of Collotype Academy, Benrido Co.,Ltd.

Mr. Masaki Ozaki, Deputy Director of Collotype Academy, Benrido Co.,Ltd.

Benrido Co.,Ltd.

  • 302 Sagaru Benzaiten-cho, Shinmachidori Takeyamachi, Nakagyo-ku,
    Kyoto-shi, 604-0093, Japan
  • TEL:075-231-4351 FAX:075-231-2561
  • HP

Benrido is a printing company that prints and publishes art books. Founded in 1887. They established collotype printing workshop in 1905, and since then they used collotype printing technique to print art catalogs and to reproduce artworks. Currently, collotype printing is a rare technique in the world. In Japan, only Benrido reproduces national treasures using multicolor collotype printing.

Benrido organizes courses at the Collotype Academy, hoping to let more people study and learn collotype printing technique. Various courses are available – from beginner courses to specialized courses, taught by experienced Master Printers. They offer a variety of options suitable for each learner’s needs.
If you are interested, please visit their website:

Benrido’s collotype postcards are on sale at Kizuki.Japan Online Shop.

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