Stripping of Kozo Bark Workshop

On January 18, 2012, a mini workshop of kozo bark stripping was taken place at Tosa Washi Kogeimura (Arts and Crafts Village) in Ino Machi of Kochi Prefecture.

Kozo is the main fiber used to make washi; the bark that is used in 70% of washi made today. These kozo trees are cut down every winter to make the fibers and soon after, the plant will grow new buds, sprouting vibrant green leaves in the summertime, and will again be ready to harvest by next winter. This is one of the reasons that washi is considered to be eco-friendly.

On the day of the workshop, the already cut down kozo trees were bunched together, and put up against the inside of a caldron filled with water. Then, a special lid called “koshiki” is used to cover the caldron, and a fire is prepared to bring to a boil. During the still dark morning hours, the Kogeimura staff goes through this process, and by the time the participants arrive at the location, steam was rising from the koshiki. Gradually, the people who will participate in the kozo bark stripping gather around the koshiki, and upon given instructions, the koshiki lid is raised.

After the mountainous amount of smoke had disappeared, we were able to see the kozo in the caldron, along with the distinct sweet aroma of the kozo plants. We also steamed sweet potatoes inside the kettle with the bark, which added onto the sweet smell that would surely arouse one’s appetite. Enjoyed the freshly steamed sweet potato in one hand, we all headed over to the location where the bark stripping would take place.

Now, we proceed to the actual stripping of the bark.

By gripping the end of the kozo and turning your hand, the bark will easily separate from the tree trunk. You will then peel the already separated bark all the way down to the other end, which is quite easily done because the plant is freshly steamed.

The bark that is peeled off is what is used to make washi. This explains the stripping of one kozo branch, so we proceed to the second, and third branch. By the time the first batch of kozo is stripped, the second batch has finished the steaming process and is brought to the stripping location.

On the other hand, a wild boar that was caught nearby along with local vegetables and tofu is cooked into a “Shishi-nabe” (Boar pot), close by, which serves as a delicious feast in between our work. This boar pot is quite tasteful, and warms up our cold bodies from the core that has been long exposed to the chilly Kochi winter.

The out-of-prefecture participants that stayed overnight for this workshop, photographers that wanted to capture every moment of this seasonal occasion, those who are greatly interested in washi, and those who have experienced kozo harvesting since childhood, all total of about 20 people participated in this Kozo Bark Stripping workshop which ended in a huge success. We all hope that the kozo barks that were harvested this day will transform themselves into an exquisite, one-of-a-kind washi.

        by Tsuyoshi Ageta (Translated by Yuki Katayama)

This Kozo Bark Stripping workshop takes place every year around this time, and ANYONE is welcome to participate!!
I will send out a tweet or blog post again next year, so all of you who are interested, keep an eye out for the updates!

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