From Gifu to Yamagata: Catching up with Satoshi Hasegawa

Drying boards outside of the Hasegawa Washi Kobo–Hasegawa’s papermill.

 

Written by Satoshi Hasegawa with translation by Yuki Katayama

Satoshi Hasegawa is known for making some of the world’s most coveted Japanese conservation papers, the Shoinshi and Usu-Gami series (formerly named Hon Mino and Usu Mino papers), made of 100% Nasu Kozo cooked with soda ash and dried on 150 year old wooden drying boards made from the horse chestnut tree. Here, Hasegawa-san reflects on his shifted practice of papermaking.

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Careful not to tear the damp sheets of freshly formed and pressed sheets of paper, Hasegawa expertly starts to peel the top sheet of the stack.

Due to a record-breaking warm winter, many parts of Japan have been
experiencing a decrease in the amount of snow compared to past years. Having
lived in Yamagata until I graduated high school at 18, I feel that the past three
winters have had considerably less snow compared to forty years ago. The
climate in Yamagata and Gifu Prefecture (where I previously lived) is very
different. Yamagata is along the coast of the Sea of Japan whereas Gifu is near
the Pacific Ocean. Gifu Prefecture is blessed with sunny days in the winter,
suitable for papermaking and papermakers who utilize the natural sun when
board-drying their papers.

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Before being transferred to the final drying board, the damp sheets are inspected for quality.

In that sense, papermaking in Yamagata seems a bit
irrational because of the climate difference and lack of resources nearby but I
try to adapt my papermaking methods to the new environment, and not the
other way around. Yamagata is known for the drastic change in weather
conditions, with extremely cold winters and scorching summers. Gifu has
plentiful access to natural water and not many regulations for water drainage
whereas water preservation and drainage is quite strict in a rice-producing
region like Yamagata.

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Once the still damp sheets are stuck to the board, Hasegawa must carefully smoothen each sheet. Making sure that any air bubbles that might have been trapped underneath while transferring the paper to the board are released, is important for avoiding any warping during the final drying process.

There are still many obstacles to reach a comfortable, sustainable level of papermaking in Yamagata but I find value in the journey to achieve my ideal papermaking studio. Tsuruoka, the city I live in, is a part of the UNESCO Creative Cities network and has been recognized as a Creative City of Gastronomy.

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Each board can dry two sheets. Here Hasegawa happily walks outside with two papers mounted to this board. Soon they will find a place in the sun.

The city has great interest in all agricultural or farm products made locally in Tsuruoka and I’ve slowly started to become conscious of the possible connections between food culture and washi. Being in a city that is so strongly tied to food culture on a global scale, I’m considering the new potential for washi and Japanese papermaking in conjunction with gastronomy. Of course my main focus will always be making washi, but being that food is such an approachable and familiar theme for everyone, it will be interesting what future collaborations we can come up with.

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Some drying boards are reclined against stands in the yard while others find comfort laid against the house in which the papers are made. it is in this position, facing the sun, that Hasegawa’s papers will finish drying before making their way to Hiromi Paper, Inc.

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