Written by Yoshinao Sugihara / Translated by Yuki Katayama
In Japanese, kami can mean either god or paper. Every spring, the annual Kami Festival (honoring the paper goddess Kawakami Gozen) takes place here in Echizen’s Okamoto Otaki Shrine. Usually the paper goddess and the two local gods that live on top of the mountain will travel down to the Okamoto Otaki Shrine to stay for three days (May 3rd-5th) during the festival. Every year, this festival brings together the entire Echizen Washi village, and many visitors from all over the world. However, due to the effects of the global pandemic, this year’s festivities were limited to the minimum number of participants donning face masks.
Although the state of emergency order has been lifted in Fukui Prefecture, most people voluntarily continue the stay-at-home protocols, and not going out unless it is necessary. The usually bustling Echizen Washi village has fallen silent in the past month, with zero outside visitors. The paper museum and shop reopened this week, with hopes to gradually attract visitors by having workshops and exhibitions.
Many of the papermakers in the village have been hard hit by the current situation, experiencing a drastic decrease in orders, along with multiple promotional events/projects being canceled in the coming months. Yet, no matter the situation the paper making artisans still head to their studios everyday, diligently making their papers with a positive attitude and smiles on their faces.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Above, the Yoshino river, with its pebbled edges, flows elegantly through Nara, where our Uda Gami and Nara Natural Dyed paper series are made. (pic: Yukako Ando)
Every two years, Hiromi Paper staff lead a tour through Japan visiting papermakers, toolmakers, and conservationists to gain further understanding of the world of Washi. The tour is heavily focused on conservation, thus we visit mostly the artisans who are producing papers used for conservation and restoration. As usual, the tour began in Kyoto, then traveled on a chartered bus through Japan visiting prefectures like Kochi, Shimane, Fukui, Gifu, and Nara. Participants stay in nearby accommodations and eat what is locally available. During the tour the artisans show how they are making the papers that many of our customers have come to know so well. Here, HPI staff Yuka presents what she saw and what she heard during this year’s tour.
Washi was not made in the summer because the tororoaoi (neri) would lose its viscosity…
In a lightly air-conditioned traditional Japanese house, with the back and forth motion of rocking the suketa (papermaking mould), traditional handmade Japanese paper is made.
The light that shines through the studio windows are ever so warm and subtle, glistening on the water surface. The well water is cold to the touch. Inside the vat are the soft kozo fibers, floating in a solution of tororoaoi and water. The papermaking studios are quiet and calming, and draws us in.
Contrary to the stillness of the studio, the scorching sun continues to heat up the outdoors, with an uncontrollable amount of sweat rushing out. This year’s Hiromi Paper Washi Tour took place in the lingering summer heat, for seven days in the beginning of September. We visited six regions, twelve studios, and four paper museums.
The hot summertime is an ideal time for papermakers to accept visitors, due to the lack of papermaking work (papermaking is primarily done in the cold months), but the participants and Hiromi Paper staff felt as if we were all on a summer camp, battling the heat and humidity, unique to Japanese summers.
Upon visiting six different regions and twelve studios, I realized that there were various styles in papermaking. The preparation work, materials used, how the suketa (papermaking screen/mould) is moved, how the papers are dried, are all a bit different depending on the region. Due to this slight variation, it’s not possible to simply group “washi” into one category.
Each papermaker or region’s unique papermaking style has been passed down for generations and will be passed onto future generations as well.
THE YOUNG GENERATION ALSO HARD AT WORK
IN BETWEEN THE OLD AND YOUNG GENERATION ARE: Hiroyoshi Chinzei of Hidaka Washi, Kiyoko Urabe making Usu Mino paper, Masayuki Fukunishi of Uda-gami, Uekubo san of Hon Misu gami, and Norimasa Abe making Izumo Mingei paper.
I don’t want to reveal what the subtle differences in papermaking styles are just yet, but perhaps you’d like to consider finding out for yourself on the next Washi Tour…?
Supported by the presence of beautiful mountains and natural water, there is great significance and depth in the traditions of papermaking, passed down from generations past. To meet the people that make the papers and to learn about the backstory is helpful in becoming one step closer to washi. I am grateful to all of the papermakers and craftsmen that I met throughout the tour, and wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
Washi Tour Route: Tosa Washi Museum / Hamada Washi (handmade Tengucho) / Hidaka
Washi (machine-made Tengucho) / Mr. Yamaomto (Japanese papermaking tool maker) /
SHIMANE: Abe Eishiro Memorial Hall / Shinichiro and Norimasa Abe (Izumo Mingei
papermaker) / Otaki Shrine (Paper shrine) / Iwano Paper Mill (large-sie handmade papermaker)/ Yamaki Seishi (Gampi papermaker) / Ichibei Iwano (National Living Treasure) / Igarashi Paper Mill (large-size handmade papermaker) / Kiyoko Urabe (Usu Mino papermaker) / Mino Washi Museum / Masayuki Fukunishi (Yoshino Uda-gami papermaker) / Ryoji Uekubo (Hon Misu papermaker) / Mr. Sekichi of Bokusendo (Conservation studio)
For more information about our Biannual Washi Tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALL IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT HIROMI PAPER, INC. For use of images you can inquire at email@example.com. All photos taken by Yukako Ando.
Keiji Oki is the third generation Mohachi papermaker. Mohachi is an extra heavy weight yet soft paper. It is sized internally, making the papers suitable for printmaking, painting and ink-jet printing.
Can you tell us a little about the history of Mohachi paper?
From the Edo period, the Oki mill originally made only Hosho papers. It was only from early Showa period that first generation Mohachi Oki became interested in making a Japanese watercolor paper for western painting. The beginning of WWII prompted the development of a thick Japanese paper, since the supply at the time was all western papers that could not be imported during the war. This type of paper was invented with guidance from Mr. Hakutei Ishii (painter and print artist, one of the fathers of the sosaku hanga (creative print) movement) It was named “MO” paper, from the first two letters of Mr. Mohachi Oki.
Post-war, once the production of MO Mohachi paper normalized, the production of larger sized papers and printmaking papers began. These papers were not for mokuhanga, but for methods such as lithography, etching and silkscreen.
Any new papers that you’d like to try making?
I’d like to try making papers using the same materials as the Mohachi paper, but cater to new needs of artists or printmakers. That is how the largest size 31″ x 47″ Mohachi paper was developed, because there was a higher demand for larger paper for artists to use.
What is your view on the future of washi?
I’d like to focus on promoting the large variety of papers that Echizen has and showing the world what Echizen Washi has to offer. Also, I am still in the process of thinking of ways to keep Mohachi papers relevant and increase demand.
Any hobbies outside of papermaking?
I like to climb mountains and run marathons in my free time. My current goal is to climb as many mountains as I can in the “100 Famous Japanese Mountains” list.
See artist feature to read about how artist Sal Taylor Kidd uses the Mohachi in her printing.
In our quest for the most color fast kozo paper, Hiromi Paper has collaborated with Echizen papermaker, Hiroya Yamashita, to create the Hiroya color series. Here are some questions we had for Hiroya about the new color series:
Paper profile: Weight, Size, Material, Sizing, and Cooked with?
50% Kozo, 35% Pulp, 15% Manila Hemp
Cooked with caustic soda
How did you get into papermaking?
I started papermaking about 13 years ago, when I was 23 years old. The mill is my family business, so it was a smooth transition into the world of papermaking.
Can you tell us the process of developing this paper?
The base of Hiroya Paper is a handmade paper that we had originally been making at the mill, with a mixture of local-grown kozo, pulp and Manila hemp. I felt that it was important to use as much local ingredients as possible, since I knew this paper was going to be used internationally.
What do you find yourself doing when not making paper?
I love cycling, playing golf, and of course eating myself full of sushi!
Please leave a few words for our readers if you have any:
I’m always open for new suggestions or opinions on what kind of papers overseas customers want! Please let us papermakers know, and we will try our best to fulfill those requests!
How were the colors of Hiroya Paper developed?
In order to achieve better, long-lasting colors, I outsourced to a different company for their assistance to dye the papers after the papers were formed. What is the significance of the coloring?
The pigments used are what were traditionally used to dye kimono textiles, and are much less likely to fade over time.
How are the colors applied to the papers?
The colors are screen-printed onto the papers, all by hand.
The exhibition will be open to the public until September 20th, 2015.
The Rembrandt House which once was his home is now a historical monument and museum, commemorating Rembrandt’s life and work located in Amsterdam. He lived and worked in this house from 1639 to 1658. Although the interior has been reconstructed since then, the overall architecture remains the same as it was in his time.
On November 27th, UNESCO officially registered “Washi: handmade Japanese papermaking and techniques” into the ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’. The specific types of washi that were recognized were: Sekishu Banshi (Shimane prefecture), Hon Mino-shi (Gifu) and Hosokawa-shi (Saitama).
What is significant about these three types of washi?
1) Made with 100% kozo
Japanese papers (washi) are primarily made using kozo, gampi or mitsumata fibers. Other materials such as wood pulp and hemp are used, to create different textures of washi. The three papers that were chosen for UNESCO only use kozo, which has longer fibers, which creates a beautiful and strong paper.
2) Using only domestic materials
Nowadays, many papermakers rely on foreign-grown kozo (Philippines, Thailand, China, etc) because of the availability and low cost. Though these foreign-grown kozo fibers are similar to those grown domestically, there are issues of them leaving flecks of oils within the finished paper; lowering the overall quality of the papers.
Sekishu uses kozo grown locally, Hon-Mino-shi uses the highest quality Nasu kozo and Hosokawa-shi uses local or Kochi kozo.
The continuing decrease of kozo farmers is another existing concern. They can be cultivated, but the return of income is so much lower compared to other industries. There have been efforts to cultivate Japanese kozo on foreign land using planting stock, but the quality of course will not be the same.
3) Whitens over time
Usually, chemical additives are used in papermaking to bleach the fibers to create a whiter paper. However, the three selected regions do not add any chemicals during their process, which makes the paper become whiter and whiter over time.
Papers that have been chlorine bleached are a pure bright white color in the beginning, but after being exposed to sunlight over time, the ultra-violet rays turn the papers yellow.
The quality of water is also an important element in papermaking. The kozo fibers are usually immersed in water to wash away dirt and impurities, or “chiri”. This is why all papermaking regions have close access to natural water.
5) Nagashizuki method
The three selected regions all use the traditional Japanese papermaking method of nagashizuki. Contrary to the tamezuki method where the water is simply drained from the papermaking screen, nagashizuki is done by moving the mold, creating a weave of fibers.
6) Wet strength
It is said that handmade papers are much stronger to water compared to machinemade papers. Papers that have been carefully dried in the sun are especially resistant to falling apart in water.
It is fantastic news that washi and the techniques have been recognized internationally by UNESCO, and would hope that Japanese papermaking and related industries will attract more attention from this.
50 Years of the All-Japan Handmade Washi Association
by Satoshi Hasegawa/Translated by Yuki Katayama
The All Japan Handmade Washi Association is an organization constructed of Japanese papermakers from around the country. Established in 1963, this group has acted as a prime spot for information exchange for 50 years. Though our activities and members have decreased since establishment, the association is still striving to preserve handmade washi.
Back in March, we all gathered to look back on the past 50 years. We were surprised to realize that many of the past records and documents had not been organized or even stored, so there was almost no records of the first 25 years of association activity. There was one individual we came across while organizing data that caught my attention. From the documents I could tell that he was a very devout ‘washi-lover’, who put much effort into succeeding the washi traditions to further generations.
He also greatly contributed to Hon Mino paper being chosen as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset, stating that “We must make (Hon Mino) an Intangible Cultural Asset, before we lose the paper forever”.
I feel that these countless efforts from past individuals is one of the main reasons handmade washi has survived for all these years.
Handmade washi has been proposed to UNESCO for their Intangible Cultural Heritage candidate as “Traditional Japanese washi”, but there are many existing problems in washi production and well as succeeding the traditions.
I wonder what the dedicated, washi-loving individual would say about the current situation of handmade washi. Though I can never meet him, I can’t help but want to exchange thoughts and ideas with him.
From Hiromi Paper:
Like Hasegawa-san, we at Hiromi Paper are also concerned about the decrease in papermakers that are able to make high-quality washi. We hope that we can be of help to those Japanese papermakers and preserve their traditions.
At the beginning of 2013, we were contacted by Johan Solberg (of Norway) in regards to experiencing papermaking in Japan. Having traveled in Japan and studied a basic Japanese language course, Hiromi decided to connect him with the papermakers of Kochi to start with in October 2013. The following is his very first report!
Washi expedition to Kōchi prefecture 2013, Part 1
My name is Johan Solberg and I work with traditional bookbinding, both with book restoration and new bindings. I grew up in Norway and I am currently running a bookbindery in a city called Halden close to Oslo.
Washi is essential to my repair and restoration work, and I also appreciate the aesthetics of washi. Therefore I wanted to gain a deeper understanding about washi, how it’s made, and also to learn more about Japanese culture. Hiromi Katayama of Hiromi Paper Inc, along with her contacts in Kōchi, made it possible for me to travel to Ino-chō, Kochi to get a first hand experience of washi making. I am really grateful for this possibility.
My journey first went from Stockholm, Sweden to Tokyo. It was an 18-hour flight. Next I journeyed further with shinkansen and regular train from Tokyo to Ino-chō, Kochi. I was met by Tsuyoshi Ageta at the station in Ino-chō. We went directly to the house in which I was going to live. When I came in to the house, I was really overwhelmed. A welcome party was held for me! We had a great night with a lot of good food and conversations.
I was very jet-lagged and I needed a few days to recover. On the following Tuesday of my arrival, Ageta-san drove me on a tour around the area. The surrounding nature is absolutely stunning. Steep foothills covered in dense green forest. We started on a road that followed the clear waters of Niyodo river. Tosawashikougeimura was our first stop. At this place I was introduced to the way the fibers are cleaned to perfection after they have been cooked (Chiritori).
We continued our drive passing farmlands and traditional Japanese wooden houses until we reached Tengujoushi Kyoudousagyoujo. Here we met Mrs. Mie Hamada who was making baskets used for koubori. Mrs. Hamada also showed us different sheets of papers, which had been beautifully decorated in various colors.
Our next stop was the Paper Museum in Ino. I got an exclusive tour around the museum by Ageta-san and Tomoko Hosokawa who spoke perfect English. So I learned a lot and got se see traditional equipment for washi making and also books and items made of washi.
After the Paper Museum, Kochi Perfectural Paper Technology Center was the next place on our list. Masaaki Ariyoshi gave me a splendid tour around the facilities and explained me in detail the process of washi and I got to look at different types of fibres. Ageta-san showed me the collection of washi samples from the whole of Japan. That really gave me an idea of the complexity of the craft.
Our next stop was in Tosa city at the paper mill of Kensho Ishimoto.
Here I got to observe the drying process, as well as looking around in the interiors of this traditional paper mill.
Our final stop of this tour was the paper mill of Takeo Ishimoto. Tsuyako Yokogawa (in the picture) was making large sheets of paper. It was amazing to watch her skilled movements of the suketa. I even got to try, but it was extremely difficult, and the result became a lump of fibres.
Before we went back to Ino, we drove on a narrow road heading up the hillside. At the end of the road surrounded by green forest was Kiyotaki-ji Temple. This was the first temple that I have visited on Shikoku, and I really hope to go visit others as well.
I learned a lot that day, and I got to see the washi making process from different perspectives. It was also a very good introduction to the area.
The next day I started working as an intern at Takaoka-Ushi Co., Ltd. Communication is of course challenging, because of my very limited Japanese, but my coworkers are very patient and I really feel included.
My first task at the paper mill was to remove dark spots from the kozo fibers (Chiritori). The work requires a lot of patience and concentration. It feels good to participate in the washi production.