Aburatorigami (あぶらとり紙?) is a traditional Japanese facial oil blotting paper. The direct translation of the term is "oil removal paper". As the term implies, aburatorigami absorbs excess oil, thereby eliminating shine from the face. Aburatorigami has traditionally been used by kabuki actors and geisha to keep makeup looking fresh throughout performances. In modern times it has been growing in popularity for everyday use amongst women for its various skincare and makeup benefits. Aburatorigami also works well to keep the balance of water and oil in the skin and prevents skin problems.
For centuries, gold craftsmen in Japan have used special handmade papers to protect the precious metal they hammered into whisper-thin leafing to enrobe the majestic pavilions of Imperial Japan. This process was done by hand, hammering the gold until it formed into gold leaf. The repetitive beating with a heavy metal object causes the paper’s fiber to constrict and its absorbency to be reinforced.
Traditional aburatorigami is made from only the finest grade of the blotting paper abaca leaf rather than pulp or rice paper. Although sometimes known as Manila hemp, Cebu hemp, or Davao hemp, the abaca plant is not related to true hemp. The Bureau of Fiber and Inspection Service defines a total of 15 grades of abaca, the highest of which are derived from the leaf sheaths located closest to the center of the abaca stem.
Aburatorigami is essentially a by-product from a traditional craft process that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, effectively using material that might otherwise be thrown away. After aburatorigami is used, it can be composted and degraded naturally back into the earth. No oil-based chemicals are used in its production. As a result, aburatorigami has relatively low environmental impacts.
Aburatorigami was discovered for its oil-absorbing qualities several hundred years ago but was effectively present as a by-product of the gold leaf making process over a thousand years ago in Kyoto. Originally called hakuuchi-gami, gold leaf artisans in Kanazawa used this specialty paper to protect the gold during the vigorous goldbeating technique.
During the Heian period (794-1192 AD), the demand was extremely high as gold was used in decorating temples and in providing the emperor and the nobility with high-quality furnishings and crafts. Thus, much hakuuchi-gami was taken to Kyoto as wrapping for delicate gold leaf.
During the Edo Period (1603–1867) rumors quickly spread throughout Kyoto that “Hakuuchi-gami makes you feel just like you’ve taken a bath!” People were surprised to see how much oil was absorbed by only a piece of thin paper, which was then thrown away. This was the moment when aburatorigami was born.
During the Edo period, Minamiza, the first Kabuki theater of Japan, was built in Kyoto in 1610. The kabuki actors, like geisha, were especially grateful to have a product that would help keep their thick makeup on while absorbing excess oil and sweat, for their performances in non-air-conditioned theaters. As a result, the culture of aburatorigami began to flourish in Kyoto.
Aburatorigami were given to Japanese geisha in Kyoto, as a small present by the gold artisans who would linger around the teahouses, the exclusive establishments also known as Ochaya. Geisha wore thick white foundation with limited time to touch up their makeup during performances. Geisha would also use aburatorigami to prepare and set their makeup, as they would commonly entertain for hours.
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