Written by Yoshinao Sugihara / Translated by Yuki Katayama
In Japanese, kami can mean either god or paper. Every spring, the annual Kami Festival (honoring the paper goddess Kawakami Gozen) takes place here in Echizen’s Okamoto Otaki Shrine. Usually the paper goddess and the two local gods that live on top of the mountain will travel down to the Okamoto Otaki Shrine to stay for three days (May 3rd-5th) during the festival. Every year, this festival brings together the entire Echizen Washi village, and many visitors from all over the world. However, due to the effects of the global pandemic, this year’s festivities were limited to the minimum number of participants donning face masks.
Although the state of emergency order has been lifted in Fukui Prefecture, most people voluntarily continue the stay-at-home protocols, and not going out unless it is necessary. The usually bustling Echizen Washi village has fallen silent in the past month, with zero outside visitors. The paper museum and shop reopened this week, with hopes to gradually attract visitors by having workshops and exhibitions.
Many of the papermakers in the village have been hard hit by the current situation, experiencing a drastic decrease in orders, along with multiple promotional events/projects being canceled in the coming months. Yet, no matter the situation the paper making artisans still head to their studios everyday, diligently making their papers with a positive attitude and smiles on their faces.
Drying boards outside of the Hasegawa Washi Kobo–Hasegawa’s papermill.
Written by Satoshi Hasegawa with translation by Yuki Katayama
Satoshi Hasegawa is known for making some of the world’s most coveted Japanese conservation papers, the Shoinshi and Usu-Gami series (formerly named Hon Mino and Usu Mino papers), made of 100% Nasu Kozo cooked with soda ash and dried on 150 year old wooden drying boards made from the horse chestnut tree. Here, Hasegawa-san reflects on his shifted practice of papermaking.
Due to a record-breaking warm winter, many parts of Japan have been
experiencing a decrease in the amount of snow compared to past years. Having
lived in Yamagata until I graduated high school at 18, I feel that the past three
winters have had considerably less snow compared to forty years ago. The
climate in Yamagata and Gifu Prefecture (where I previously lived) is very
different. Yamagata is along the coast of the Sea of Japan whereas Gifu is near
the Pacific Ocean. Gifu Prefecture is blessed with sunny days in the winter,
suitable for papermaking and papermakers who utilize the natural sun when
board-drying their papers.
In that sense, papermaking in Yamagata seems a bit
irrational because of the climate difference and lack of resources nearby but I
try to adapt my papermaking methods to the new environment, and not the
other way around. Yamagata is known for the drastic change in weather
conditions, with extremely cold winters and scorching summers. Gifu has
plentiful access to natural water and not many regulations for water drainage
whereas water preservation and drainage is quite strict in a rice-producing
region like Yamagata.
There are still many obstacles to reach a comfortable, sustainable level of papermaking in Yamagata but I find value in the journey to achieve my ideal papermaking studio. Tsuruoka, the city I live in, is a part of the UNESCO Creative Cities network and has been recognized as a Creative City of Gastronomy.
The city has great interest in all agricultural or farm products made locally in Tsuruoka and I’ve slowly started to become conscious of the possible connections between food culture and washi. Being in a city that is so strongly tied to food culture on a global scale, I’m considering the new potential for washi and Japanese papermaking in conjunction with gastronomy. Of course my main focus will always be making washi, but being that food is such an approachable and familiar theme for everyone, it will be interesting what future collaborations we can come up with.
Above, the Yoshino river, with its pebbled edges, flows elegantly through Nara, where our Uda Gami and Nara Natural Dyed paper series are made. (pic: Yukako Ando)
Every two years, Hiromi Paper staff lead a tour through Japan visiting papermakers, toolmakers, and conservationists to gain further understanding of the world of Washi. The tour is heavily focused on conservation, thus we visit mostly the artisans who are producing papers used for conservation and restoration. As usual, the tour began in Kyoto, then traveled on a chartered bus through Japan visiting prefectures like Kochi, Shimane, Fukui, Gifu, and Nara. Participants stay in nearby accommodations and eat what is locally available. During the tour the artisans show how they are making the papers that many of our customers have come to know so well. Here, HPI staff Yuka presents what she saw and what she heard during this year’s tour.
Washi was not made in the summer because the tororoaoi (neri) would lose its viscosity…
In a lightly air-conditioned traditional Japanese house, with the back and forth motion of rocking the suketa (papermaking mould), traditional handmade Japanese paper is made.
The light that shines through the studio windows are ever so warm and subtle, glistening on the water surface. The well water is cold to the touch. Inside the vat are the soft kozo fibers, floating in a solution of tororoaoi and water. The papermaking studios are quiet and calming, and draws us in.
Contrary to the stillness of the studio, the scorching sun continues to heat up the outdoors, with an uncontrollable amount of sweat rushing out. This year’s Hiromi Paper Washi Tour took place in the lingering summer heat, for seven days in the beginning of September. We visited six regions, twelve studios, and four paper museums.
The hot summertime is an ideal time for papermakers to accept visitors, due to the lack of papermaking work (papermaking is primarily done in the cold months), but the participants and Hiromi Paper staff felt as if we were all on a summer camp, battling the heat and humidity, unique to Japanese summers.
Upon visiting six different regions and twelve studios, I realized that there were various styles in papermaking. The preparation work, materials used, how the suketa (papermaking screen/mould) is moved, how the papers are dried, are all a bit different depending on the region. Due to this slight variation, it’s not possible to simply group “washi” into one category.
Each papermaker or region’s unique papermaking style has been passed down for generations and will be passed onto future generations as well.
THE YOUNG GENERATION ALSO HARD AT WORK
IN BETWEEN THE OLD AND YOUNG GENERATION ARE: Hiroyoshi Chinzei of Hidaka Washi, Kiyoko Urabe making Usu Mino paper, Masayuki Fukunishi of Uda-gami, Uekubo san of Hon Misu gami, and Norimasa Abe making Izumo Mingei paper.
I don’t want to reveal what the subtle differences in papermaking styles are just yet, but perhaps you’d like to consider finding out for yourself on the next Washi Tour…?
Supported by the presence of beautiful mountains and natural water, there is great significance and depth in the traditions of papermaking, passed down from generations past. To meet the people that make the papers and to learn about the backstory is helpful in becoming one step closer to washi. I am grateful to all of the papermakers and craftsmen that I met throughout the tour, and wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
Washi Tour Route: Tosa Washi Museum / Hamada Washi (handmade Tengucho) / Hidaka
Washi (machine-made Tengucho) / Mr. Yamaomto (Japanese papermaking tool maker) /
SHIMANE: Abe Eishiro Memorial Hall / Shinichiro and Norimasa Abe (Izumo Mingei
papermaker) / Otaki Shrine (Paper shrine) / Iwano Paper Mill (large-sie handmade papermaker)/ Yamaki Seishi (Gampi papermaker) / Ichibei Iwano (National Living Treasure) / Igarashi Paper Mill (large-size handmade papermaker) / Kiyoko Urabe (Usu Mino papermaker) / Mino Washi Museum / Masayuki Fukunishi (Yoshino Uda-gami papermaker) / Ryoji Uekubo (Hon Misu papermaker) / Mr. Sekichi of Bokusendo (Conservation studio)
For more information about our Biannual Washi Tour, email email@example.com.
ALL IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT HIROMI PAPER, INC. For use of images you can inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos taken by Yukako Ando.
[featured image above is a detail of Kurosaki’s work Atlantic Splashes from 1993]
Akira Kurosaki was born on January 10, 1937 in Manchuria, China, but his family returned to Japan shortly after the Second World War. While a teen, Kurosaki sensei’s father arranged for him to learn painting. It would be his father later who forbade him from pursuing painting as a course of study as he believed art to be financially unstable. With his father’s ruling, Kurosaki sensei studied Design at Kyoto Institute of Technology from which he graduated in 1962. Despite the conflict with his father’s interests, Kurosaki sensei emerged from academia yet an artist.
It wasn’t long before Kurosaki sensei became an associate professor at his alma mater, Kyoto Institute of Technology, where he remained until 1968. During his initial stint as professor Kurosaki sensei began creating the first of his abstract and surreal works. These works used the guise of western modes of painting that were in fashion at the time, to create artworks that would explore the psychology of traditions and ideologies of postwar humanity. Navigating printmaking, painting, collage, and eventually papermaking, Kurosaki sensei embarked on a trajectory that would help him carve a career as an innovative artist.
In 1987, Kurosaki sensei became professor and head of Printmaking at Kyoto Seika University where he established the department of papermaking. His pioneering work in papermaking art was the catalyst that helped bring papermaking into the realm of fine art, producing works throughout his career and especially the 90s that were simultaneously print and paper. Employing innovative and traditional techniques Kurosaki sensei would often require new or modified tools or designs of his own fashioning to create works.
One of his inventions might be familiar to you– in this excerpt, translated by Yuki, Kurosaki sensei writes in his book Shaping Paper, about the purpose behind the development of the Disk Baren:
As one of the most important tools used in mokuhanga printmaking, high quality barens have a long life span, but on the other hand can be difficult replacing the expendable bamboo sheath core of the baren.
Wanting a baren that was easier to maintain but still retained the
technical quality of the traditional baren, the disk baren was invented.
By making a baren out of plastic materials, the quality control is more consistent, parts are easier to replace/repair and the price is more economical.
The traditional baren core is made from white bamboo sheaths that are twisted then laid down into a circular shape. These sheaths create the bumps which are important in a baren to evenly press the paper into the block . The disk baren accurately recreates these bumps with its plastic core. If the surface begins to wear down, there are replacement disks available.
Though the plastic core may look simple to the eye, the final product was achieved through many trials and errors to best resemble the texture and composition of the traditional bamboo cores. Although the bumps are laid in a concentric circular pattern, they are not radial but form subtle waves that help to apply even pressure when in use.
Kurosaki sensei was never one to be held back by lack of capability, nor was he compelled by the impulse to profit. Rather, the sensei’s concerns about the traditional baren stemmed from its impractical inherent qualities–they were inaccessible to most, expensive, and oftentimes burdensome to fix or replace parts. Knowing this, Kurosaki sensei reimagined how the process produced by the baren could be recreated using more accessible means without sacrificing, as he said, “the technical” qualities that make barens so important to mokuhanga. After much testing and consideration for the ability of his new tool, the Disk Baren came to be. Kurosaki sensei showed much respect not only to his own ways of making work but also the way in which those types of work had been made for centuries before him.
For years, Kurosaki sensei traveled the world making art, lecturing, and exhibiting, carving for himself a singular career. Finally, though, he settled back down in his hometown of Kyoto, where he passed in May. Our thoughts and best wishes are with Kurosaki sensei’s loved ones.
I have been working on and with paper for a long time. I test different techniques with paper to actualize artists’ books often wondering about the life of paper. Washi, one of the most “living” papers, is so generous and amazing, lending itself to my purpose as a bookmaker.
I wondered, how can I approach paper as a “living” thing so that I can imbue part of me into it. How can I be part of the life of the paper? How can I participate in animating the life of a paper?
I set out to find a workshop in Japan that would welcome me for 3 months, where I could immerse myself in papermaking, from harvesting the fibers to forming and drying the sheets.
Mrs. Hiroko Tanino, Washi Master, Tokigawa (Saitama prefecture), opened her doors and welcomed me. We share a love of a paper and the surprises that arise in any situation. We see the beauty of the washi-maker transfer into the beauty of the washi they make. Mrs. and Mr Tanino are both passionate handcrafters working tirelessly to preserve handmade papermaking, as such, they are welcome to ideas and proposals presented to them!
My project became to make a book from Washi that was also about Washi, where the texts would be haiku. Through my new experience, Mrs. and Mr. Tanino guided me with their know-how.
Although I am not able to make a perfect sheet of washi, I discovered the infinite potential offered by this noble paper. Washi can speak to us; washi will conform to our desires–it is open to the light and it can improvise. Sometimes it offers its fragility, sometimes its sturdiness. Other times it’s like clothes or skin, full of sensuality and flexibility. It can even be a sculptable substance ready to be reformed or reborn. With pigments, its possibilities further expand.
Each sheet is unique and it is very moving.
The three months spent learning from Tanino san passed quickly. The more I learned about Washi, the more questions I began to ask. Washi is eternal which gives me time to discover it. I’m barely meeting washi, and it leaves me dreaming for more.
My name is Nicholas Cladis. I’m an artist who has lived and worked in Fukui Prefecture, Japan for five years. I make work in Echizen, a region of Japanese papermaking featuring dozens of mills. “Echizen washi” is not a single papermaking company – rather, it is a supportive collective of different mills making a variety of different paper. This variety, and the closeness of the community, are what make it a special place, even among other papermaking areas in Japan.
Echizen is also the only papermaking region with a papermaking goddess, and a shrine devoted to her (over 1,300 years old). Every May there is a festival, in which we carry the portable shrine around town, from noon until evening, and then ascend the mountain behind the shrine under paper lantern-light. Fukui is known for its beautiful, clean water, which is why paper and sake production have both thrived here.
I have a small studio here where I make paper. I frequently teach workshops and give English-language tours to visiting artists.
I’m also currently on the organizing committee for Imadate Art Field, a non-
profit which organizes exhibitions, artist residencies, and educational programs related to paper art (including prints). Perhaps the most well-known event hosted by Imadate Art Field is the Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Paper Art, which last year featured Texas printmakers Juergen Strunck and Jon Lee, and dozens of other artists from around Japan and the world.
Additionally, I’m an instructor and research fellow at Fukui Prefectural University. Last year I taught a course on paper art to Japanese students.
It’s an exciting time to be part of the Echizen community. There are new connections with global arts communities, and most craftspeople have a sincere interest in learning about art, conservation, and consumers. Echizen may be a center of tradition, but it is also an extremely adaptable community. [This] week, I’ll be at the Southern Graphics Council International (SGCI) conference in Texas to give a washi demonstration. I will be demonstrating two forms of Japanese papermaking: nagashizuki and nagashikomi. I’m also going to be showing some alternative techniques within these forms that have potential printmaking applications. I hope visitors: 1) can develop a starting familiarity with Japanese paper and its underlying culture, and 2) are inspired to use Japanese paper in their work.
I received my MFA from the University of Dallas in 2013, and studied printmaking at Trinity University in San Antonio several years ago. It will be nice to return to Texas to share some of what I have learned. I hope to see you there.
Founded in 1973, Twigs Fabrics and Wallpaper specializes in handmade textiles and wallpapers inspired by 18th and 19th century decor. Founder, owner and creative mastermind Arthur Athas embarked on this path in Boston where he was still attending art school. Twigs’ first major project was in 1977, commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art to reproduce “The Monuments of Paris” wallpaper (originally made in early 1800s). The museum requested a panoramic wallpaper to use in their exhibition room, taking a team of artists two years to produce the drawings and over a thousand silkscreens to finish the printing. After many years of working on numerous large scale projects (even at the White House!), Arthur and his partner Rick decided to scale down to a two-person team in their production studio in Culver City.
About ten years ago, Arthur began using rolls of Japanese papers for his wallpapers, because of their durability and their texture that adds to Twigs’ handmade feel. By using a paper that is a blend of kozo and cotton/hemp, the paper is strong enough to withstand multiple layers of silkscreen, hand-painting and dyes. Noticeably, there are no machines in the Twigs studio, because no part of their process requires them. The papers or fabrics are laid out on their long tables, where all of the printing, painting and dyeing magic happens. Even the dyes are made by hand in the outdoor patio area, carefully concocted by Rick’s visual senses and 27 years of experience.
Though struggling to adjust to the ever changing tastes and interests in the decor/design realm, Arthur has never let his artistic vision be blurred. He still keeps an aged poster of the Villa Foscari – La Malcontenta (villa near Venice, Italy) on his studio wall, as a constant reminder of what had initially sparked him to start this now niche business. Behind Twigs’ continued success in such a unique market is Arthur’s unwavering vision and passion for art and all things beautiful.