HPI’s 2019 Washi Tour by Yukako Ando

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.

IMG_8417_Kozo Furuta studio
The preserved studio of the late Kozo Furuta, one of Japan’s legendary papermakers. Located in Mino, one of Furuta’s former students, Kiyoko Urabe now makes paper in her own studio adjacent to this historical landmark. Furuta was also a teacher to Hiromi, propietress of Hiromi Paper, and Satoshi Hasegawa, maker of the Usu Gami series among many other splendid papers.

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.

 

 

IMG_7513_Toolmaker Mr.Yamamoto
For more than 70 years, Mr. Yamamoto is known for his dextrous hands that make and repair traditional Suketa (papermaking moulds). Here he shows the company of the tour how he precisely weaves together with silk, the fine strips of bamboo that form the screen. Like papermakers, toolmakers are on the decline. Waitlists for the renown toolmaker’s services can last many months. 

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.

 

 

IMG_7825_Aki-chan shows barks to us
Aki-chan, working at the large-size papermaker Iwano Paper Mill for most of her life.
IMG_8050_Ichibei Iwano_National Living Tresure_Kizuki Hosho
Ichibei Iwano (NO relation to the Iwano Paper mill which produces large size papers), Echizen Washi’s National Living Treasure, making only one type of paper (Kizuki Hosho) for generations and generations. Kizuki Hosho is a beloved woodblock printing paper that is highly sought-after.

THE YOUNG GENERATION ALSO HARD AT WORK

IMG_7245_Tencho papermaker_Osamu Hamada
The first papermaker we visited was young but highly skilled papermaker Osamu Hamada of Hamadawashi founded by his grandfather the late National Living Treasure, Sajio Hamada. Here Osamu san demonstrates how Tengucho (extremely light weight paper) is made. Tengucho requires very rapid techniques when forming sheets in the suketa leading to a beautiful display of splashing water and pulp.
IMG_7863_Iwano Paper Mill_Large-sie paper making
At Iwano papermill, two young papermakers demonstrate the sort of “dance” that is required to create their large handmade sheets. Due to the size that they are famous for, Iwano papers requires two papermakers working in tandem, intuiting each others movements, to produce consistent, beautiful papers.
IMG_8112_Masami Igarashi_Large-size papermaker
Masami Igarashi, maker of Igarashi Kozo, some of the largest handmade papers in the world, leads the party through her family’s papermill. Igarashi Kozo can be made up to sizes 2.5mx7m.

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.

img_7417_hidaka-washi-hiroyoshi-chinzei.jpg
Hiroyoshi Chinzei from Hidakawashi shows the tour participants the cooking of stripped bark. It is the cooking process which depletes the lignin from the fibers, bringing them to archival standards. Hidakawashi is responsible for the world’s thinnest paper with some weights as low as 1.6gsm!
IMG_8364_Kiyoko Urabe_Usu-Mino papermaker
Kiyoko Urabe was once the student of Kozo Furuta, making Usu Mino papers.
IMG_8569_Masayuki Fukunishi_Uda-gami
Masayuki Fukinishi of Uda Gami. Kozo fibers for Uda Gami are treated with clay, which prevent the paper from stretching or shrinking when exposed to heat or moisture. 
IMG_8708_Hisako Uekubo_Hon-misu papermaker_drying method called “subuse”
Here, Uekubo san of Hon Misu gami is seen making Hon Misu. Kozo fibers for Hon Misu are treated with gofun–incinerated sea shell dust–which helps keep the paper from stretching or shrinking when exposed to heat or moisture. Unusually, because of the gofun treatment, the papers are transferred directly from the su (screen) to the drying board, skipping the pressing process that wrings out excess water. This is because if pressure is applied to a stack of Uda Gami sheets, they will not compress to let out water, making this step unnecessary. This omission of the pressing step is called subuse.
IMG_7608_Izumo Mingei_Norimasa Abe studio_making indigo dyed paper
Izumo Mingeishi, founded by the late and first papermaker to be designated a National Living Treasure, Eishiro Abe, produces some of the most exquisite shimmering Mitsumata papers. Here his grandson, Norimasa Abe, demonstrates the creation of Izumo Mingei Mitsumata Indigo, one of the most sought after colors from the Izumo Mingei Mitsumata collection. In front of him is a stack of freshly made sheets, each separated by merely a piece of thread.

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.

IMG_8873_Bokusendo with Mr. Sekichi
The final stop was Conservation Studio Bokusendo. Mr. Sekichi shows preparation for a new restoration project.
IMG_8848_Mr Sekichi shows Furunori_Bokusendo
Underneath the floorboards at Studio Bokusendo, are pots of aged Jin Shofu (wheat paste). Periodically, staff will uncover the pots and scrape off any mold that has accumulated on the surface. The aging process diminishes the stickiness of paste making it perfect for more delicate procedures. Bokusendo does not sell aged Jin Shofu, but you can make it at home. You better start now, though, because some of the aged Jin Shofu dates back to more than TEN YEARS!

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 washi@hiromipaper.com.

ALL IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT HIROMI PAPER, INC. For use of images you can inquire at washi@hiromipaper.com. All photos taken by Yukako Ando.