In the mountainous region of Niigata, Japan lies the papermaking studio of Kadoide Washi headed by Yasuo Kobayashi and his wife Kikuko. I had the pleasure of visiting Kobayashi-san and his family at his studio in September 2022. The town of Kashiwazaki is located two hours northwest of Tokyo by train and the papermaking studio is a 20 minute drive from the nearby train station. Although it was still September when I visited and the surrounding mountains and forests were a lustrous green, I was told that in prime winter, the landscapes I was seeing would turn entirely white to be covered in heavy snow. Winter and snow are words that came up in conversation numerous times during my visit, as the winters in those regions are harsh and unavoidable.
Kobayashi san was born and raised in Niigata and has spent his whole life in this region. He knows firsthand both the immense beauty and the precarious fierceness of nature and what it means to coexist with mother nature and often work around the conditions. For reference, certain areas of Niigata Prefecture receive up to 8m (26 feet) of snow a year!
Kobayashi san refuses to call himself a papermaker, but a ‘farmer’ that occasionally makes papers on the side. Aside from paper, he maintains his own kozo and rice fields. He also grows his own vegetables and cares for a flock of hens that lay eggs daily. He is of course being extremely humble, as Kobayashi-san founded the Kadoide Washi Association in 1976 and since then has been working tirelessly to promote Kadoide papers as well as educate people on traditional Japanese papermaking methods. He has also been deeply involved in projects to stimulate the development of washi, promoting exchanges between urban and rural areas, repairing thatched houses and recreating them as lodging that visitors can stay at. Kadoide Washi is most known for partnering with the sake company Asahi Shuzo to make handmade papers for their Kubota brand in 1985 and have been producing papers for the sake labels ever since.
Hiromi Paper is thrilled to introduce four new papers from Kadoide Washi. All of the papers have been snow bleached, where the kozo bark is laid out in the snow to bleach naturally. Kadoide paper is also unique in the bamboo screens that are used. A Kobayashi original, his “udasu” screens are made with bamboo strips of differing widths woven alternately to create more depth in the laid lines. Kadoide Washi is available in three weights (19gsm, 32gsm and 89gsm).
It is with a heavy heart that I write of Tadayoshi Yamamoto’s passing. Yamamoto-san was one of the only remaining craftsmen who specialized in the making of su (bamboo screens) and keta (papermaking frames) for Japanese papermaking. I personally have had the honor of visiting his studio a few times—most recently on the 2019 Washi Tour. His kindness and generosity stand out in my memory. On our visits, he explained his work in detail and showed the tour participants his techniques – always with a big smile on his face.
We asked our representative Tsuyoshi Ageta in Kochi prefecture to say a few words in Yamamoto-san’s memory. Below are Ageta san’s words:
Once known as the ‘Kingdom of Washi’, Kochi Prefecture was the epicenter of Japanese papermaking as well as the suketa tool making that is essential to the craft. Tadayoshi Yamamoto, a central figure in tool making, passed away on August 18th, 2022 at the age of 94.
Yamamoto san naturally began helping his family business of tool making when he was young, and continued to hone his craft over the years. After much hard work and diligence, he eventually became the go-to person for papermaking tools, and papermakers from around the country would seek out Yamamoto san’s creations.
He was always energetic and optimistic and would happily accept visitors such as the Hiromi Paper Washi Tour participants even despite his busy production schedule. I recall how he would explain and demonstrate his tool making process with such joy. Yamamoto san was the president of the National Preservation of Handmade Japanese Paper Tool Making Techniques from 2008 to 2012 and contributed to the unity between toolmakers and papermakers all over Japan.
Yamamoto san’s powerful influence was not limited to Japan. He traveled to and resided in the kingdom of Bhutan for some time and taught his tool making techniques to the people of Bhutan, so they would be able to make their own tools for Japanese-style papermaking (papermakers in Bhutan learned papermaking from Japanese papermakers). Tadayoshi Yamamoto was a central pillar in the realm of papermaking as well as around the world, and he will be missed terribly.
Back in October 2019, Hiromi made a trip to the papermaking village of San Pablito in Puebla, Mexico to visit the Amate Paper makers. The village is situated on a mountainside, a five hour drive away from Mexico City. There, Efrain Daza and his family produce Amate paper using methods passed down from precolonial times.
Amate paper is an ancient bark paper first produced by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. Amate was used in these societies for codices and ceremonial cut-outs. Amate paper was threatened with extinction in the mid-1800’s. Efrain’s family, belonging to the Otomi people, have been producing paper for three generations.
Amate paper is made with bark from the Jonote tree, which is first soaked or boiled, and then worked by hand. The intensity of the original dark brown fibers comes from the natural color of the harvested bark. Subtle changes lead to subtle changes in color between each batch. Bleaching and dying are employed to produce papers in a range of colors suitable for painting and drawing, in addition to decorative uses.
While lighter solid color papers provide a stable surface for painters and artisans to build color and image upon, a range of papers use negative space to create subtle patterns that contrast uniform repetition with the natural contours of the raw materials.
Amate papers can be made in various designs, sizes, and colors—contact Hiromi paper to inquire about special orders
This month we will explore the long but somewhat convoluted and controversial history of nikawa (animal skin glue).
Nikawa is a solid substance traditionally made out of animal (cow, rabbit, deer, etc) skins or bones or a mixture of both. Primarily used in art and art restoration, nikawa can be melted down into a liquid form to mix with pigments for Japanese painting (Nihonga), sizing papers or mixed with soot to manufacture sumi sticks. Interestingly, one of the main uses for nikawa in the 1900s was for match-making. A mixture of potassium chlorate, sulphur and nikawa is used to make the match tip, but with the invention of the disposable lighter in the 1970s, the demand for nikawa in that field slowly diminished.
The origins of nikawa can be traced back to almost 5000 years ago in the northern Eurasia region. Traditionally, the production of nikawa in Japan was done all by hand by descendants of premodern outcast hereditary occupational groups. Any work that dealt with death was considered unclean or tainted in Buddhism and Shintoism and was thus designated to these discriminated communities. Although nikawa making is enveloped in a dark and unfortunate history of Japan, the standard of the nikawa that was made during this time is recorded to have been of exceptional quality.
The hand processed nikawa (wa nikawa) contained many essential nutrients that were otherwise removed from the later machine processed (yo/western nikawa) ones. The industrial process removes all ‘impurities’, including sodium, potassium and phosphorus which are naturally occurring in the animal skin. These chemical elements aid in moisture absorption as well as water retention which is crucial for traditional nihonga painting and restoration of historical/cultural assets when an artifact needs to be remoistened to remove old adhesives. Wa nikawa is also known as sanzenbon, which translates into ‘3000 strips’, because that is the amount of nikawa sticks that are produced from one cow. The last manufacturer of traditional sanzenbon closed down in 2011, and now only the industrial version (with most chemical impurities removed) of nikawa is being made.
The Nikawa that we carry at Hiromi Paper is made industrially, and uses a unique process to mitigate the strong smell that traditional nikawa would otherwise have. The quality of the nikawa is similar to that of the wa nikawa, and is widely used amongst artists and conservators in Japan as well.
How to make nikawa:
Nihonga artists swear by the ratio of 1 nikawa stick to 100cc of water.
Place the cut up nikawa stick into water, and leave overnight
Heat up the nikawa in a separate pot of hot water; do not place the nikawa on direct heat.
Make sure the temperature does not exceed 60℃ / 140°F. Because nikawa is a gelatin/protein, thermal denaturation starts to occur around that temperature and drastically starts to lose its adhesive strength.
*This change is irreversible; much like once an egg is boiled it cannot go back to its previous form.
“A chorus of crickets undulates through green, dewy grass. Crows declare a tree their own, over there, just beyond the field. As I reach down to pull weeds – kusatori – at the base of a kozo tree, spiders retreat from the jumbled root system. I move my hands along the stems of each plant, navigating the bark, removing leaf sprouts before they can become waki-me (side branches). The air is cool, there is shade from a nearby forest, and the tall fences around this plot keep the deer out.
Where am I? This has been a question I’ve asked myself multiple times over the last year. Mid-pandemic, I returned to the US from six years of living and working in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. While there, I became intimately connected to the Echizen papermaking community, and now consider many there to be friends and family, teachers and colleagues. The decision to change my life so dramatically was not taken lightly, but a year later, I can confidently declare that it was the move I needed to make. As a papermaker, and a papermaking artist, I receive so much joy from teaching and collaborating with others. That is exactly what I returned to do as faculty at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.
So, I repeat: Where am I? The first paragraph could be describing Echizen, where I learned how to cultivate kozo. Or, it could be Iowa, where I teach topics ranging from nagashizuki to sculptural papermaking. When I first stepped foot in our kozo plot at the UICB paper research facility, the smells and sights took me right back to the mountain valley where I had so often tended to trees or participated in a harvest. It was not just the fact that my new position included a kozo plot to care for, but also that caring for it and making paper from it brought forth so much wisdom from the craftspeople and artists who had taught me: Masuda Yoriyasu, Murata Naho, Uesaka Kazuo, Kato Shizuko, Iwano Ichibei, Osada Kazuya and Eiko – naming all who taught me may be impossible, but naming who I can is important.
This, perhaps, encapsulates the UICB nicely: we are a center of analog sleuths, searching the past for ways to express the present and make our way into the future. We do not just teach and repeat our learned techniques, but also advocate for personalized art-making.
A lot has happened since coming to Iowa. I received two grants, which are enabling the UICB to plan for the future: one grant to bring a group of graduate students to Echizen, and another to bring two craftspeople from Echizen to Iowa. We’ve connected the Center and Echizen through events, as well. Students submitted films which were displayed on large handmade washi sheets as part of the exhibition of contemporary paper art in Echizen. Then last spring, we even held a Japanese papermaking festival in Iowa in honor of the papermaking goddess Kawakami Gozen.
I learned about washi from a circle of experts who I will always be indebted to. Equipped with their lessons, and having picked up several of my own along the way, my approach to teaching papermaking emphasizes community. It isn’t enough to learn how to harvest the kozo – I also teach about growing it, empowering students to be well-versed in the full cycle of the material. We work together to prune, weed, and fertilize, and later in the fall, just as we did last fall, we will harvest the trees, strip the bark, and feast on steamed sweet potatoes. I also teach my students about who taught me (in the case of kozo cultivation and care, the wonderful Kato Shizuko, who told me, “Every year I learn something new.”). In this way, we at the UICB continue cycles, create new links in an ongoing chain, and acknowledge that nothing exists in a vacuum.
For a while, the US had a washi issue. Many thought it was rice paper, and Hiromi, among others, has been making strides to educate the public. Now there is another issue, though: the idea that washi is a singular craft with a singular identity. Japanese paper is a discipline, and like any other discipline, it has range. I like to think about washi as if it is music. There is classical music, the traditional washi we all know and love. But there is also punk rock, wherein the maker pulp-paints on massive screens, weaves lace-like tapestries, turns paper into clothing, pours slurry directly onto sandy shores, or fills a room with a world of fiber.
At the UI Center for the Book, I am part of a collective of colleagues and students who investigate craft and art with an eye for the details, and another eye for the concepts. I have once again found a place to belong, a community that has drawn me in, and encouraged me to never forget the community I came from.
NOTE 1: If you would like to help promote the craft and art of papermaking, and the other book arts, at the UI Center for the Book, please learn about their almost complete $2.5million challenge grant by clicking here.
NOTE 2: If you are interested in receiving an MFA or certificate in the book arts from the UI Center for the Book, click here.“
There is a a dramatic difference, both physically and visually between our BHU-04 and BHU-07W, Bhutan Mitsumata Thin and White Thick respectively. BHU-04 is quite thin and delicate looking — it is highly translucent and at certain angles under the light has a sheen. BHU-07W is very opaque though some light will pass through it — its texture is like that of the surface of a desert with valleys and unevenness coursing throughout, giving it a rustic appearance when compared to smoother western papers.
Traditionally, Bhutanese paper was made by pouring pulp into a mould and letting the water drain resulting in heavy thick and rugged papers like the Bhutan Shawa or Natural Tsharshos. However, in a cultural exchange between Japan and the Kingdom of Bhutan, the nagashizuki was introduced. Nagashizuki is the process whereby a mould is scooped into a vat of pulp fibers and lifted, and then swift swishing knocks water out of the mould and through it, but this course spreads the fibers more evenly across the bamboo screen housed in the mould leading to thinner flatter sheets. While BHU-04 and -07 are made through the nagashizuki style, they still possess some of the qualities of traditional Bhutanese paper, including irregularities and in the case of BHU-07, a complex surface.
Mitsumata, the fibers with which BHU-04 and BHU-07W are made, comes from the Mitsumata plant, known widely as Edgeworthia Chrysantha. Edgeworthia Chrysantha is a flowering shrub or bush that is known for the many bundles of yellow flowers that remain after its leaves fall, tipping the ends of its branch systems. Its Japanese name, Mitsumata, refers to the way that its splits into three branches at every joint. Edgeworthia is used ornamentally in landscaping around the world and is known to repel insects. The fibers of the Edgeworthia are long but still shorter than Kozo fibers and can be finely beaten resulting in lustrous sheets that range from visually textured and velvety to slick like fine Gampi.
Mitsumata is known to naturally hold an inkjet print well despite its lack of sizing or inkjet coatings, and I was curious about how the thickness and texture could affect the same image. I spend most of my day at Hiromi Paper conjecturing answers to the many projects presented by our customers, banking on precedents from feedback about our papers and products. Moreover, I have always had a fondness for both the Thin and the Thick Bhutanese Mitsumata papers so finally, I decided to try printing my own image on each sheet to examine the qualities that they possess when they are used to hold a printed image.
I must DISCLAIM now the fact that I am not an experienced printer and I print using my humble home studio machine, an Epson Ink Tank which is efficient for smaller tasks and maybe for printing photographic work — that is if I had the time and patience to properly adjust the printer settings. For this test, however I simply wanted to capture the effects of the ink on the surface of the two types of paper which I trimmed to 8.5″ x 11″ to be able to fit in my printer. Some day though, I might make a proper print.
At any rate, I set up a still life and quickly took a cell phone picture that I then uploaded to Photoshop where I keyed out the background in order to get a floating still life. Then I clicked ‘print’ and allowed the paper feeder to work on its own. I didn’t fidget with any ICC profiles or printer settings and just let Photoshop manage the colors.
BHU-O7 MITSUMATA THICK WHITE I really pushed my machine to work with this paper. It is a bit thick and when it first entered the machine, it hit the printer heads and you can see scuff marks at the top and bottom where it was an issue. Despite that, the velvety surface of the paper absorbed the ink nicely while retaining the capacity to show detail where some of the text on the backside of the bottle in the still-life was legible. The ink did not bleed. Because of the texture of the paper, the image will compete with the paper itself which might be desirable to some artists or home printers.
BHU-04 MITSUMATA THIN I was really impressed by the way that this paper printed. At first, because of its thinness I mounted it to a carrier sheet, but quickly found that my printer did not ingest paper in a way that worked for the carrier sheet process. So, I fed it through without a carrier sheet! It is up to every person working with their machine to determine if their printer can run a thin sheet without a carrier. The print was quite sharp and whole, meaning not-porous or having gaps in the ink. The image on this sheet was made smaller because of its thinness; I didn’t want to damage my printer with such a large amount of ink attempting to land on a larger swath of sheet surface. Mitsumata thin did NOT warp when the ink dried and it gave very sharp resolution. While the laid line is highly visible in this paper, it was a non issue because the image was so vibrant, it came off the page and did not compete with the paper.
IN CONCLUSION Bhutan Mitsumata Thick will have a sharper image because it is less porous than Bhutan Mitsumata Thin. It seems that the ink will absorb into the fibers of both papers making the image look rich in color, but it will not bleed profusely — the fibers tend to contain the pigment. These images are not crisp the way they perhaps might be on Asuka papers which have an inkjet coating or Surface Gampi which has very densely compacted fibers, and both which will hold the ink on the surface, but Bhutan Mitsumata paper will provide a beautiful dreamy image that provides a meal for the eyes as the viewer moves closer towards and deeper into the image laid upon its surface.
This month, we hear from artist Hans Baumann who was commissioned by The ONWARD Project to research the archives of the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition, eventually binding the found knowledge into a single edition handmade art book.
This project – titled “An Examination of the Legacy and Archives of the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition” – is the culmination of an approximately 18-month period in 2019 and 2020 studying the archives of the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition (RBMVE). It was commissioned by The ONWARD Project, a nonprofit that (in their own words) “inspires new understandings of history and place in the American Southwest.”
In addition to the material held by The ONWARD Project, I had the opportunity to visit the RBMVE archives at UCLA, as well as archaeological sites in Tsegi Canyon – specifically Bat Woman House and Twin Caves.
The project is structured around my interactions with these data and places in the present day, and I use the format of a handmade art book to attempt to contextualize the legacy of the Expedition from my (contemporary) perspective as an artist with a deep interest in the land.
In an attempt to make this document of interest to the specialist, I include transcribed interviews with various academics, archaeologists and media specialists and use our exchanges to guide my historical inquiry.
All materials for this project – paper, inks, binding, clay – are archival quality. This was my initial criteria for any material selection, as it is critical that this book be durable and have a viable trajectory (as an object) into the future. It is intended to communicate with generations beyond our own. Beyond this, I wanted the book to evoke the subject matter that it addresses.
Not only did I want it to feel “of” the archive, I wanted it to combine the colors and textures of Tsegi Canyon, as well as the grand transit of time that the book’s text addresses. The book’s enclosure is a ceramic slipcase and I went through an extended process of experimenting with various additives and finishes such that the ceramic feels somewhere between red Navajo sandstone and the many fractured and eroded potsherds found throughout the Canyon.
The book is bound in a post and screw style with nickel hardware and uses an undyed, half linen, half cotton book cloth, and the endsheets use an Amate paper made by Otomi craftsmen in Central Mexico.
This paper was chosen because its ivory and walnut tones call to mind the stacks of undyed sheep’s wool that can be seen drying on racks outside homes in Tsegi Canyon. This is a very specific and personal memory, but also a visual reference point that many others will have if they have been to the Canyon during shearing season.
The interior pages of the book use two types of paper. An acetate film is used when overlays are needed. Otherwise, I use a pure white Asuka paper from Japan.
I spent several weeks finding this paper, as I wanted to use something that would hold an image well but also be a pleasure to touch and to turn. Every archival quality Western paper that I encountered failed to meet all of these criteria, and I eventually chose this midweight washi paper for its distinct paper grain, its unobtrusive but pleasant texture and its ability to accept printed images with no bleeding or image degradation.
I would like to give special thanks to the Littlesalt and Austin families for allowing me to visit Tsegi Canyon. I would also like to thank Elizabeth Kahn, Madi Fair, Allison Fischer Olson, Ron Maldonado and Marydee and Chris Donnan for their time and assistance with the research component of this project, and to Prof. Snead, Eric Hanson and Andy Christenson for time and consideration throughout the interview process. Thanks to Joel Freeman for his assistance throughout the project. Additional thanks to Wendy Teeter and Sedonna Goeman-Shulsky for their generosity, patience and expertise as I explored the RBMVE archives at UCLA.
Last year, after the pandemic caused many schools to close and convert all of their classes to virtual ones, Professor Mark Ritchie at the University of Wyoming Laramie Art Department called me up with an idea.
Usually, art students would purchase their class materials at the university store, but with the schools having been shut down the students were all off campus or some even out-of-state, getting ready to begin their printmaking/book arts classes online. With no access to a physical university store to shop at, Mark thought it would be a good idea to curate paper kits specifically for printmaking or book arts, that these students could have sent to their homes.
These paper kits had about ten different types of Japanese papers, with differing sizes, colors and weights so that those not yet familiar with Japanese papers would be able to print on various papers and get a feel of what works for their methods.
It is wonderful to see the wide variety of printmaking methods that the students displayed on the Japanese papers.
Thank you to Mark Ritchie and his students for giving us the opportunity to create these paper kits, it was a joy to curate and select papers that would work best for printmaking, which hopefully leads to the students learning more about the possibilities of using Japanese papers in their work.
If you are interested in having a bundle of paper kits made for a school/institution, please let us know! We are able to work around various budgets and paper specifications.
***Disclaimer: All images are from events prior to the pandemic.All pictures taken by Hiroyoshi Chinzei.
Below, Hiroyoshi Chinzei – President of Hidakawashi in Kochi, Japan – discusses their annual Kozo harvesting event, which this year has been scaled down because of COVID-19.
The harvest time for Japanese mulberry(Kozo) has come!
Every year between December to January, the local group of Japanese mulberry farmers and Japanese hand-made paper association have an event called “Kozo Kawa Hagi (mulberry peeling) Experience Event”.
Usually, local elementary school students, and people who do not know how to make Japanese paper’s raw material are widely invited to experience their first trial. At the event, Special Japanese soup and steamed sweet potato are treated as their compensation for labor.
This year ,however, was totally different from normal event due to the pandemic situation. Very few people could participate and worked silently. It felt like a quiet prayer for good harvest and quick recovery of world’s peace from the pandemic situation.
Safely handling the massive bundles of Kozo.
Even though the event was very small this year, we’ve got a whole bunch of shiny fresh new mulberry (Kozo) fiber! Those Kozo fibers are waiting to become this year’s beautiful Japanese paper and delivered to your hand pretty soon!
Hello! My name is Sō Kubota, Sekishu Banshi papermaker at Sekishu Kubota.
We are located in Shimane Prefecture along the coast of the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Like most papermakers in Japan, the effects of COVID-19 have definitely had an impact on the papermaking business here as well, as we have been experiencing a decrease in work loads.
Luckily there have been special orders for conservation papers and hand-written sutras that have kept us busy for the past few months.
Now we are fast approaching the busiest season in papermaking; the harvesting of kozo and stripping of kozo bark. High quality kozo is a necessity for Japanese papermaking, so the whole family and staff members get together every year around this time to work on preparing the kozo.
Although we now live in the new normal with the pandemic regardless of where we are, I hope the coming year will be an improvement for Sekishu Kubota and my fellow papermakers.