Specializing in papers and materials from Japan and around the world
Echizen Shikibu Color Gampi Makers: Naho Murata & Akemi Hara
Translated by Yuki.
PART 1: Naho Murata
Naho Murata is one of the two women who make our Echizen Color Gampi. We have been carrying this paper for over 14 years since Hiromi introduced it back in 2001. We were able to ask the ladies a few questions and here is part 1 with Naho Murata’s interview.
How did you get into papermaking? What brought you to Echizen paper village (from Kyoto)?
I was familiar with papermaking since I was little, but the first time I’d ever used washi was when I was in college, and organized a washi fashion show. The fashion show was a huge success, but there was still a lingering question that I had about washi. I had used Kyoseishi* for the event, and noticed those papers weren’t as strong and durable, compared to synthetic materials usually used for clothing. That is when I started to think, “I wonder if there is other washi that is even stronger?”
After the fashion show set fire to my curiosity, my college professor took me to Echizen to visit some papermakers in the village, and Umeda Washi was one of them. When the time came to job search, I approached my professor and expressed my interest in going into the field of papermaking, and that is when I was formally introduced to Umeda Washi. My initial motive was simple; I wanted to work with what I love most, washi. That was already 18 years ago, and I’ve been making paper ever since. This year I’m working on obtaining my Traditional Craftsman qualification.
How was Umeda Washi when you first started working?
At most, there were about ten papermakers here and a few younger generations including myself. Although the demand for washi has since decreased, because of the younger employees at the mill, there has always been a positive atmosphere for new ideas and innovation, which led to the production of the Echizen Shikibu Color Gampi**.
Any thoughts on gampi?
The appeal of gampi is the never-changing traditions and feel, which has continued for over a thousand years.
Have you ever thought of changing any of the papermaking methods?
I have attempted to try different things, but I feel that the passed down traditions are the best so far.
Aside from gampi, you also make kozo papers. Are there any differences?
Personally, I feel that I can be a little more ‘rough’ when making kozo papers, as in shaking the papermaking mould more vigorously. On the other hand, gampi paper making is more precise and delicate. The making process of kozo is more fun, but I prefer the finished look of the gampi better.
Any thoughts on how you want your gampi papers to be used?
Right now I feel that it is more important for younger generations to know more about washi and its traditions. Children nowadays automatically assume that paper is white, but they do not know that the papers become white after bleaching, or that washi is originally a natural color. I’d also like to further the knowledge and usage of washi in everyday lives.
In order to do so, I felt that it is important to obtain the Traditional Craftsman qualification. By being certified, I am able to promote Echizen Washi even more and keep the traditions alive for future generations.
*The base kozo handmade paper is coated with starchy mucilage called Konnyaku then crumpled to soften. Konyaku makes paper strong, flexible and water-resistant. Sometimes this paper is used for clothing and is popular for book/box covers.
**Handmade 100% gampi papers made in Echizen of Fukui prefecture. These strong, sheet sheets are dyed in a subtle range of colors (21 colors).
I had tried different fields of work after high school, but it wasn’t until my son started school that I stumbled upon a job listing for Umeda Washi. At first I started in a part-time position, but after seven years here I am now a full time employee, supporting the critical steps in papermaking such as chiritori (picking the fibers) and helping Naho with her paper making .
After trying out many fields of work, is there a reason why you decided to stay so long with Umeda Washi?
I love the people that I work with. I often break out in rashes when I work with cold water (which is what is used for papermaking), but even that doesn’t keep me from coming into work everyday.
What are your duties to support Naho’s papermaking?
I make sure all of the tools and supplies that she needs is prepared and ready when she needs them. In order to do that, I have to pay close attention and be aware of the different stages in papermaking. I think my personality is best suited for the supporting role; I am happy helping out around the mill even though I do not actually make the papers.
Niku (meat). And cake. Naho is the opposite, she’s not a fan of sweets.