New Gotou-san Barens!

For Christmas, I shamelessly ordered for myself two hand-made barens from Mr. Hidehiko Gotou (below), from Kanagawa, Japan. Barens are the traditional “hand

Mr. Gotou

printing pads” that a printers use, along with elbow grease, instead of a mechanical press. Mr. Gotou is the only craftsman in the world who still produces real hand-made barens. The one I am holding in my right hand (to your left) with a white dot is a 8-strand coil baren, and the other is a 16-strand bamboo coil baren. I’m already using the heck out of them. The coils are hand-braided out of bamboo strips- very time consuming work. I ordered them from Mr. Gotou and after 2 months of labor,

Happy customer

he sent them to me before receiving payment. I was impressed by his craftsmanship and his trusting nature.
Below is a detail of the inner coil which is usually not visible without its outer bamboo leaf covering (takenokawa) that holds the coil (shin- see below) along with the black back pad (ategawa). Gotou-san has a website (in Japanese) if you want your own- just tell him that I sent you!

A detail of the hand-braided coils inside the barens. (Photo courtesy of

4 thoughts on “New Gotou-san Barens!

  1. How different are the 8 and 16 strands? I’ve been thinking about a Hon B. but thought I’d opt for a 12 strand–thinking it stronger than my medium or strong murasakis (that I’m beating to death)… you find the 8 strand actually strong enough for the color work?

    1. Thanks, Andrew. These are the bamboo coil and murasaki ategawas. I find the the 8 strand to do the work and my main impression (sorry for pun) is that the bamboo shins seem to “grip” the paper without it of course abrading. I have a couple of murasakis and it seems as if the braided cords in them don’t have as many angular features and they glide more. I’m pretty happy with these- I’m sure a pure hon baren is even more sensitive. Gotou-san turned them around after 2 months- the only pain was that he didn’t have a good way to pay, so I made him get a Paypal account 🙂 Really nice guy and I’m afraid that some day I won’t have the chance to buy these beauties. Wish I could loan you one to try it out… cheers.

      1. Mara Cozzolino (near Milan) has one….I’m going to pay her a visit…..and that’s one reason. I’ve really worn down my Murasaki Barens (by printing on Western papers) so my medium isn’t and my strong is trying but isn’t either. But now that I’m shifting back to Japanese papers I still need something with enough heft for the color passages on papers that are 60-90g/m2…..I think your even printing on your last print means you’ve found the right combination of technique and materials.

  2. Thanks, Andrew. I’m sure the new barens help. I REALLY need to work on my brush prep next. I am salivating over the prospect of getting a real sharkskin and learning how to get that going. I do think that whatever smoothness I have gotten is in the ink suspension (I add a little paste in the ink bowl to keep in in suspension and then on the block). I dunno, seems to work for me. But what I’m happy with is the wood. I polish the crap out of cherry plywood that I’ve laminated. I haven’t documented this yet, but I have been using a sheepskin car buffer on a drill press along with gray polishing rouge- I’ve also used a hand drill. Dave Bull gave me some polished cherry plywood years ago and I marveled at the smoothness- I tried hi-grit wet dry sandpaper, scrapers, etc. Dave claims that sandpaper roughs up the wood too much- maybe polishing is different. It comes out shiny smooth without any residue or finish that I can tell. I think this is how they must do it in Japan, by polishing. Even so, after I wet the wood before printing, I will knock down the grain again with a small sandpaper block or nagura as Dave showed me. One variable at a time, right?

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