Tanzaku, 短冊 small poetry boards
strip of paper, pillar prints

Snowman Daruma as a tanzaku picture

Click on the thumbnail to see many more!

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Tanzaku are mostly written for the Star Festival, to hang them on a bamboo pole.
Star Festival (Tanabata, Japan)

Windchime Daruma with paper slips


Tanzaku as a kimono pattern

© Kimono Kyoto


Greetings everyone,

My name is Jake Benson and I am a paper marbler and bookbinder. One thing that I am very interested in is the use of Japanese marbled papers, or suminagashi paper for tanzaku panels. Many haiku poets used this kind of decorated panel, in addition to many other kinds of decorative papers or ryoushi for their works. Some are further embellished with kirihaku, or cut metal leaf work, similar to maki-e seen on lacquerware. To me such panels are not only to be appreciated for their meaning, but their powerful visual imagery that they convey.

Very recently, I came across a HUGE collection of beautiful digital images of many tanzaku online, from the collection of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies.

Information in English:

Gateway to the database (in Japanese):

Here are the links to tanzaku featuring suminagashi; click on the image to load it in glorious detail. I'm still trying to find out just WHO the poets are and WHAT they had to say.


くれたけの なびく末葉の 露のまも
ちよのみどりの 色はかはらじ

寒しとて 戸ざせば暗し とざさねば
あな北まどの 風にやれつつ








なりゆくはてもたけくそ有ける %(花押)

nama nuruki yu-oke no ue ya kiku no hana

on the lukewarm water
in the bath bucket -

中川金菜 Nakagawa Kinsai なかがわ・きんさい, active around 1833

Some fairly recent publications have focused on the Chinese poetry in this collections, by Professors Timothy R. Bradstock and Judith N.Rabinovitch, of the University of Montana. The titles are:

The Kanshi Poems of the Ozaka Tanzaku Collection : late Edo life Through the Eyes of Kyoto Townsmen.

An Anthology of Kanshi (Chinese verse) by Japanese poets of the Edo period (1603-1868).

Dance of the Butterflies: Chinese Poetry from the Japanese Court Tradition.

If you can make it to Washington DC, a fabulous exhibition, "East of Eden", is devoted to the depiction of Gardens in Asian art.


Some additional images can be seen here:

A friend and fellow marbler Milena Hughes sent me an image of a six panel byobu folding screen in the Art Institute of Chicago.

. . . CLICK here for Photos !
Tosa Mitsuoki, Japanese, 1617-1691
Flowering Cherry with Poem Slips
Edo period, c. 1675

As I mentioned, there are a pair of byobu with 6 panel folding screens each that feature large trees by a pond of silver at the Freer exhibition East of Eden.

Among the many items on display, there is an early 17th c. album that contains 30 pairs of paintings illustrating scenes from the "Tale of Genji" along with poems by various court scribes. All of the poems are written upon suminagashi paper. The leaf on display (#31) features a nice "whorl" of ink further decorated with kirihaku and noge (cut gold and metal leaf, in various shapes). It is a bit different from leaf #30, which you can see in the Freer collections database.

The description mentions that it is thought that they may have once decorated a folding byobu screen.

Also on display is a pair of 6 panel folding screens that feature large trees by a pond of silver. Individual tanzaku panels have been pasted to the screen to give the effect that they have been hung from the trees. The tanzaku feature a variety of decorative papers, including kumogami (cloud-paper, blue banding similar to arbling, but made with poured blue pulp) as well as kirihaku.

Unfortunately, you can only see a small clip of the image of this byobu on page 3 of the interactive tour.

Click on the interactive tour, then on "east Asia", and then click on "gallery". An image will load, but more are featured. The pair of Byobu that I'm referring to is image #18.

Another byobu decorated with tanzaku from the same period can be seen here:

... the tanzaku panels appear "as is recently tied to the branches following a spring poetry party or composition".
It also mentions how this practice "...of tying them to branches or donating them as offerings to the gods first started at court and then spread to other classes of Japanese society."

Unfortunately, no mention is made as to when this practice may have started.

Seeing these images makes me I wonder whether there is a tradition of hanging of tanzaku in seasons other than during the Tanabata festival.
Could it be that is just what survives as a popular the practice today?

Please enjoy this virtual a feast of Japanese decorative papers, tanzaku panels, and poetry!

© Jake Benson

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Tanzaku from Buson


panel by Kyotai

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短冊の歴史 (History of Tanzaku) Japanese.


External LINKs

Tanzaku in the Kamakura Period

Poems of Matsuo Basho on Tanzaku

Hiroshige Nature themes on Tanzaku

GOOGLE for more tanzaku photos !

GOOGLE for more 短冊 photos !


Shikishi <> 色紙 Decoration Art Board .. and Daruma

Washi, Japanese Paper 和紙 and Daruma

. . . . .. . . . . H A I K U

nawashiro ya tanzaku gata to shikishi gata

The rice-seedling beds;
The rectangle of a tanzaku,
The square of a shikishi.

Shiki, trans. R. H. Blyth

Blyth says about this haiku:
The seeds of rice are planted in square and rectangular-shaped beds which resemble the tanzaku and shikishi. The poetry lies in the fact that the things compared are remote materially but identical in form.

PHOTO © Gabi Greve, May 2007



Anonymous said...

Poem cards were placed by team players from the Ministers of the Left and Right in Imperial court uta-awase competitions. Each tean would have a suhama ("sandbar") that looked like a portable miniature mountain constructed of precious material on which poem cards would be added during the competition as the poem was verbally rendered for consideration. Emperor Uda (867-931) held these. Uta-awase were organized for Retired Emperor Murakami in 968 & Empress Hiroko in 1056.

The tanzaku card size of today was probably decided by a popular printer of poem cards distributed at temples in the Meiji period.

Items used in artistic display including footed stands and trays are sometimes characterized as tanzaku (in style) because of the their unusual length relative to width. An elegance related to antiquity & poetry can be implied by tanzaku-style.

For a footed display table's top, the tanzaku-style length would be more than twice the table's width, but it considered less elegant if length is greater than three times the tabletop's width.

Trays of more length than width, when very long are sometimes referenced as ichimonjibon-- a tray (bon) styled after the character for "one" (a single horizontal line). They are common for displaying and serving cups of steeped tea (sencha).

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

goshiki no tanzaku 五色の短冊
Tanzaku poetry slips of five colors

more about
things in five ritual colors