Echizen Washi: Functionality of traditional Washi skills and techniques

The origin of washi can be traced back to as far as 2200 years in China. Envisioning the world map in your head, you can see that to the left of Japan are Korea and China, where almost all of out cultural influences are from, since on the right is the large barrier of the Pacific Ocean. At the time when papermaking made its way into Japan, there was no method of transportation for anyone or anything to make it across this ocean to Japan, causing all new knowledge, information, cultures to come in from the west. Moreover, Fukui Prefecture where we are, served and still is the grand entrance to cultural assets and crafts such as lacquer ware, pottery, cutlery, and textiles, because of its location leading to the then-capital of Kyoto and Nara.

National Living Treasure Mr. Ichibei Iwano states,
“I am not at all a master. The water from this land is magical. The only spirit that I cherish is this: I want to preserve the kozo fibers close to its original state as possible. That is precisely why I do not use any chemicals in my papers. I’m aware that the use of chemicals will exceptionally improve my productivity, but I would like my papers to last 1000 years. That is why I never take the easy way out”. The pride and determination that is behind the papermaking is what makes washi significantly different from western paper.

Echizen washi has been preserving its techniques and traditions for over 1500 years, but the road was not a smooth one. Evolving to meet the needs of the times and continuing to improve our techniques are what makes Echizen washi’s success today. I feel that it is my duty to introduce, in addition to the functionality of papers, the joys of beautiful washi to consumers, and presenting new uses for washi. Currently, I am focusing on the use of washi as an interior decoration, and have been proposing various options. (See images)

In the extremity of the east of the Silk Road journey, a treasure land of humankind’s wisdom and intelligence was found. Through the long and tumultuous history of the Japanese people, washi is the crystallization of the Japanese wisdom. The future of Echizen washi is definitey something to keep an eye on…

by Yoshinao Sugihara (Translated by Yuki Katayama)


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