Just recently, one of our beloved paper makers in Kochi prefecture was featured in an article in the Yomiuri newspaper. (You can see the original article here)
Takaoka Ushi was the first paper makers to ever invent a paper-making machine in 1957; which is still used to this day. It is often said that handmade paper is better in quality than machine made ones, which is accurate, but these machine made papers by Takaoka are of excellent qualities, resembling those of handmade papers.
The roll papers that Takaoka Ushi produce for HPI, are of the same excellent quality, and are highly popular to our customers.
We at HPI are happy to see that they are striving to keep the beauty of washi alive.
Takaoka Ushi: Making their debut into the Interior market
With approximately 20 papermakers in the small town of Ino-machi, there is one in particular that succeeded in producing the first “machine-made” Tosa Tengucho (the Kochi prefecture’s traditional washi), and is striving to make their original brand line of intricate paper goods.
“Light and strong; and has the delicate texture of washi”, says president of Takaoka Ushi Paper Research Institute, Mr. Koichiro Takaoka (53) while tearing a piece of paper freshly made from the machine. The thickness of the paper is less than 0.1mm, the tender feel making it difficult to believe that the paper is machine-made. In a corner of the factory, a “Takaoka-shiki (Takaoka method)” papermaking machine lies. The official name is the Suspended Short Net Papermaking machine. Before the war, Mr. Takaoka’s grandfather Mr. Ushitaro, had participated in technical guidance in a papermaking factory, and built his own soon after the war. Mr. Ushitaro had made this machine in 1957, and since then this same machine has been making beautiful papers for more than half a century.
Applying the traditional papermaking method of hanging the papermaking mold with ropes and shaking it, the machine is made to do just about the same actions. The machine is able to make the kozo fibers intertwine without any unevenness; similar to the divine qualities of handmade papers. This Takaoka-shiki (method) spread all throughout Japan in the 1960s.
The business transition from machine-making to paper-making was made by Koichiro’s father Masayuki. Thin and durable washi was not only limited to the use in shoji screens or fusuma (sliding doors), but for typewriters as well. In the busiest times, the factory would have to operate two of their machines to keep up with the orders.
However, with the spread of western-style architecture and homes, the demand for washi decreased, and typewriters were replaced with copying machines and printers. Even within the town of Ino-machi, many papermakers transitioned into producing toilet papers and diapers.
When Mr. Takaoka became president 8 years ago, the orders were continuing to decrease. This is when he realized, “There is no time to simply wait for orders to come in. We must go on the offensive from now on”. Since then, the mill has introduced products with the distinctive features of washi, such as coated digital papers which ink will not bleed, book covers, and card cases.
Mr. Takaoka himself will go out for sales. When he brought an iPad cover made of washi to his clients, he immediately obtained 100 orders. “There is still no obvious sales growth, but I feel confident”, says Mr. Takaoka.
Just last year, they launched the brand, “Takaoka Ushi”. With over 40 products, they are making their debut into the Interior industry this year. Lighting made out of washi or panel-form wall materials will soon be shown at the Tokyo Gift Show from February 8th.
These beautiful products were made possible by the original Takaoka-shiki. 5 or 6 companies in town use these machines, but as Mr. Takaoka states, “The machines are suitable for small quantities of large varieties or paper, with good paper quality. Realizing and utilizing these traits that large size machines do not have is our way of life”.