Taking Part in Recreating Ancient Paper

By Hasegawa Satoshi
Maker of Usu-Mino, Hon-Mino, and Cho-chin
Translated by Yona & Yuki

This summer, we were given an opportunity to work with the Tokyo University Historiography Department on their research of restoring paper used in ancient Japanese documents. Normally, paper cannot be produced in the summer, so this was just the right occasion. Papers from ancient times each have their own unique expression, so it was fascinating just to be able to observe each one.

This time, we attempted to cook Kozo fibers with wood ash in order to recreate these ancient papers. Wood ash leaves a different fragrant in the air than soda ash, quite like the smell of cocoa. When kozo bark is cooked until tender, it also looks as if it were smeared with ash. There were also unexpected occurences, but they became meaningful experiences for us. Upon completion of the paper, we can’t say we were completely satisfied with the results. We were able to cook with wood ash easier than we thought, on the other hand, beating the kozo fibers was unexpectedly difficult(due to the wood ash leaving Kozo fibers longer than if using caustic soda).

We had expected the tools used to make paper in those days to be different from now. But, trial after trial, we were able to come up with different ideas. Because we had to guess the methods used from several hundred years ago and what went on in the maker’s heads, we had to jump into the past in our discussions with the fellow artisans. We were deeply moved by it emotionally.

Opinions on the changes from washi making techniques since ancient times differ according to researchers, it also feels like no prominent theory has been agreed upon as of yet. I myself have had questioned the various theories from researchers until now. But participating in such experiments from a craftsman’s standpoint, I have come away with the impression that there are things I can help collaborate with. And with it, I hope to share with everyone the results.

Wood Ash Process

Drying Boards

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