“Unbelievable!”

By Hasegawa Satoshi
Translations by Yuki

This spring marks my 20th year since coming to the city of Mino and learning the art of paper-making. Since then, I have encountered a certain situation several times when meeting with foreigners upon explaining that I have been creating paper by hand with traditional methods.

Unbelievable!” they would say.

I have been told that by numerous foreigners. In hearing them out I have learned that Japan is a country that is well-known for advanced technology in car manufacturing and electronics, so they cannot imagine that a Japanese person my age can still be making washi with his hands.

Certainly, this profession is extremely rare even for people my age, and since my personality is rather ‘unique’, I will not oppose to the above viewpoint. However, it was indeed bewildering when people would think of my lifestyle as “unbelievable”. Now, I am aware that the statement itself has no deep meaning to it.

In recent years, a good number of newly college graduates throughout Japan are pursuing the profession of paper-making. The Japanese economy and the change in the job-hunting trends have a great impact of this, but washi-making is no longer considered as “unbelievable”. However, it can be said that these young people who aspire to be future papermakers have gone through many hardships and just continuing to work in this business is extremely difficult. Just recently, a prospective graduate from a vocational school came to me saying she wanted to learn the ways of Mino washi making. I had met this student before, and at that time I had asked her details about her school and future plans. After hearing her out, it saddened me to decline her request to accept her into my studio, and advised her on a different method.

The current Japanese economy is in a serious state, and the employment rates
for undergraduates are plummeting. In this condition, the Japanese government has formulated several policies in order to support the job hunting process. However in reality, job-hunting has not been successfully promoted and the employment security office is overflowing with eager job-seekers. Even if Japan carries a major budget deficit already, the government is using a large sum of taxes to help employment issues which are not matching up with the recruiting-employment process at all.

There are indeed many companies that are hiring. The problem is that the youths’ attitudes toward employment mismatch with the companies’ job offers. For many years, Japan has been in an economic downturn and if this continues, the fate of Greece is upon us as well. This economic state of Japan is considerably “unbelievable!” in my opinion.

Currently living in Japan and making washi by hand, I export washi overseas in this state of high exchange rate for yen. This must be putting a strain on many consumers and Hiromi Paper. There, I stop and think.

The paper made in my studio is mostly used in museums for restoration of cultural assets, which is a rather unique circumstance. However, what do the buyers from overseas look for in washi? Certainly the quality of paper, but I believe that they have a strong trust in the work done by a Japanese person. Restoration technicians in Japan are eager on the research of paper, and the daily exchange of opinions with them helps strengthen my papermaking. I hope that overseas’ technicians demand Japanese paper because they are aware of this relationship. I also hope that the paper users value not only prices and quality, but the environment in which paper is made and the relation of mutual trust between makers and users. Since this is the case, we are able to continue producing washi in Japan. Political and economical instability is of course important, but the strong bond of trust between the manufacturers and consumers is what completes a reasonable mission in a business. I wish for washi-making to be cherished as that sort of entity.

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