In the mountainous region of Niigata, Japan lies the papermaking studio of Kadoide Washi headed by Yasuo Kobayashi and his wife Kikuko. I had the pleasure of visiting Kobayashi-san and his family at his studio in September 2022. The town of Kashiwazaki is located two hours northwest of Tokyo by train and the papermaking studio is a 20 minute drive from the nearby train station. Although it was still September when I visited and the surrounding mountains and forests were a lustrous green, I was told that in prime winter, the landscapes I was seeing would turn entirely white to be covered in heavy snow. Winter and snow are words that came up in conversation numerous times during my visit, as the winters in those regions are harsh and unavoidable.
Kobayashi san was born and raised in Niigata and has spent his whole life in this region. He knows firsthand both the immense beauty and the precarious fierceness of nature and what it means to coexist with mother nature and often work around the conditions. For reference, certain areas of Niigata Prefecture receive up to 8m (26 feet) of snow a year!
Kobayashi san refuses to call himself a papermaker, but a ‘farmer’ that occasionally makes papers on the side. Aside from paper, he maintains his own kozo and rice fields. He also grows his own vegetables and cares for a flock of hens that lay eggs daily. He is of course being extremely humble, as Kobayashi-san founded the Kadoide Washi Association in 1976 and since then has been working tirelessly to promote Kadoide papers as well as educate people on traditional Japanese papermaking methods. He has also been deeply involved in projects to stimulate the development of washi, promoting exchanges between urban and rural areas, repairing thatched houses and recreating them as lodging that visitors can stay at. Kadoide Washi is most known for partnering with the sake company Asahi Shuzo to make handmade papers for their Kubota brand in 1985 and have been producing papers for the sake labels ever since.
Hiromi Paper is thrilled to introduce four new papers from Kadoide Washi. All of the papers have been snow bleached, where the kozo bark is laid out in the snow to bleach naturally. Kadoide paper is also unique in the bamboo screens that are used. A Kobayashi original, his “udasu” screens are made with bamboo strips of differing widths woven alternately to create more depth in the laid lines. Kadoide Washi is available in three weights (19gsm, 32gsm and 89gsm).
This month we will explore the long but somewhat convoluted and controversial history of nikawa (animal skin glue).
Nikawa is a solid substance traditionally made out of animal (cow, rabbit, deer, etc) skins or bones or a mixture of both. Primarily used in art and art restoration, nikawa can be melted down into a liquid form to mix with pigments for Japanese painting (Nihonga), sizing papers or mixed with soot to manufacture sumi sticks. Interestingly, one of the main uses for nikawa in the 1900s was for match-making. A mixture of potassium chlorate, sulphur and nikawa is used to make the match tip, but with the invention of the disposable lighter in the 1970s, the demand for nikawa in that field slowly diminished.
The origins of nikawa can be traced back to almost 5000 years ago in the northern Eurasia region. Traditionally, the production of nikawa in Japan was done all by hand by descendants of premodern outcast hereditary occupational groups. Any work that dealt with death was considered unclean or tainted in Buddhism and Shintoism and was thus designated to these discriminated communities. Although nikawa making is enveloped in a dark and unfortunate history of Japan, the standard of the nikawa that was made during this time is recorded to have been of exceptional quality.
The hand processed nikawa (wa nikawa) contained many essential nutrients that were otherwise removed from the later machine processed (yo/western nikawa) ones. The industrial process removes all ‘impurities’, including sodium, potassium and phosphorus which are naturally occurring in the animal skin. These chemical elements aid in moisture absorption as well as water retention which is crucial for traditional nihonga painting and restoration of historical/cultural assets when an artifact needs to be remoistened to remove old adhesives. Wa nikawa is also known as sanzenbon, which translates into ‘3000 strips’, because that is the amount of nikawa sticks that are produced from one cow. The last manufacturer of traditional sanzenbon closed down in 2011, and now only the industrial version (with most chemical impurities removed) of nikawa is being made.
The Nikawa that we carry at Hiromi Paper is made industrially, and uses a unique process to mitigate the strong smell that traditional nikawa would otherwise have. The quality of the nikawa is similar to that of the wa nikawa, and is widely used amongst artists and conservators in Japan as well.
How to make nikawa:
Nihonga artists swear by the ratio of 1 nikawa stick to 100cc of water.
Place the cut up nikawa stick into water, and leave overnight
Heat up the nikawa in a separate pot of hot water; do not place the nikawa on direct heat.
Make sure the temperature does not exceed 60℃ / 140°F. Because nikawa is a gelatin/protein, thermal denaturation starts to occur around that temperature and drastically starts to lose its adhesive strength.
*This change is irreversible; much like once an egg is boiled it cannot go back to its previous form.
My name is Kohei Tanaka, brush maker of Kobayashi Hake.
Kobayashi Hake was established in 1907 by my great grandfather in Ueno Ikenohata located in Tokyo. The studio primarily made brushes for bookbinding but transitioned into brush-making for conservation use. Now Kobayashi Hake is run by my father (third generation) and myself. Today I would like to share with you the brief history and production of hake (brush).
History of Hake
Originally, hake is a variation of fude (in English, both are generally translated into “brush” but, when the two need to be distinguished, they may be referred to as “hake brush” and “fude brush,” respectively) that began to be used from the Heian period by craftsmen who mounted sutras and paintings in the form of hand scrolls, a process which required joining of paper and lining.
Among documents and other bibliographic materials there are many paintings (Senmenkyo, a national treasure in the collection of Shitenno-ji temple, a national treasure, to name one) in which people are depicted washing or drawing water at the side of a well or the water side or washing a box, which appears to be coated with urushi (Japanese lacquer). In one of these paintings, two hake can be seen.
In the Muromachi period, especially at the time of Yoshimasa(1449~1473), mounted hanging scrolls became indispensable items in the alcoves of shoin-style rooms. In paintings depicting artisans of various trades, craftsmen are seen using hake to mount paintings or calligraphy. It seems that around this time the craftsmen made their own hake, while in the Edo period people who specialized in making hake first appeared in areas around what is now Kyoto and then in Edo, today’s Tokyo.
According to documents, Kyoto-style hake was soft while Edo-style hake was firm. In order to make hake, hair with tips were selected and bundled. The root of the hairs was wound with several layers of washi that had been glued together to a certain thickness. This was then pressed between boards and finally bound with thread, in the past made from human hair and in later days from silk thread used for shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument).
Several more types are used in addition to the above, but all high quality hair (mane, chest, tail) is chosen.
Horsehair is firm and will absorb paste well. Goat hair is soft and will absorb paste well.
– Cypress, spruce(pine),etc.
– Water-resistant, easy to process.
– Silk thread for shamisen.
– Strong, tends to tighten when moisture is absorbed, easy to process.
– Water-resistant, will not weather easily
3. Process for making hake
Hair that has been sorted in step 1 is tied tightly and boiled in a big pot to undo any unmanageable characteristics and to get rid of oiliness.
Hair is selected according to quality and grade of the material as well as to the purpose for which the brush is to be used.
This is one of the most important steps in the process since it will determine the overall quality.
A comb is used to sort the hair tips. Then hair is separated into bundles of long hair, short hair, etc. and further sorted by cutting the roots to make bundles of same hair length.
4. Assembling, mixing
Several types of hair are assembled and then combed together according to use.
This is a time-consuming work since hair must be assembled uniformly.
5. Straightening with heat
A heated iron is used for straightening hair. Oiliness of the hair will ooze out when heat is applied.
6. Rubbing with ash
Ash made by burning rice husk is used to rub the hair well to remove the oiliness that has oozed out in the previous step.
Hair will become less slippery through this process, making the process to follow easier.
Hair is arranged in the same direction and hair with split ends or no tips are removed by using a small knife.
This is a very important step. The tips of hair will be aligned straight when paste is applied.
Hair that has been thus adjusted is sandwiched between two cypress boards in uniform thickness. Then the left and right ends of the sandwiched bundle of hair are secured with barks of a cherry tree.
The brush is placed on a tightening tool and bound with silk shamisen thread.
A small knife, sandpaper and the like are used to adjust the shape of the handle. Hair tips are adjusted.
Current Situation of Hake Brush Making
In recent years, it has become more and more difficult to obtain the animal hairs used to make the hake brushes. It is especially hard to acquire high quality deer hair used in Mizubake (water brush) and horse tail hairs.
More so than before, it has become important to inspect the hairs and distinguish their quality.
On the other hand, there has been increased demand from sushi restaurants that use small hake brushes for sauce application. The brush handle is made of bamboo and the bristles are Japanese weasel hairs. Fortunately, these brushes are becoming increasingly popular within sushi restaurants around the world.
We at Kobayashi Hake will continue to make hake brushes of the highest quality for our customers in various fields around the world.
We’re looking back at work by Laura Viñas this month. Through her work Viñas explores the psychological reality about self-contextualization and memory. Painting Tengucho 5g and 9g papers with watercolors, Viñas transforms the seemingly delicate sheets into powerful haunting images of landscapes alluding to the Pampa region of South America– a vast expanse of low-lying flat fields that unfurl in every direction that you look towards the horizon. Viñas work asks us to look into the image on the surface of the Tengucho paper and once there to try to look past it and get lost in the illusory expanse, and to consider the space behind the paper as part of what’s directly confronting us in each painting or installation.
In the words of the artist:
My subject matter deals with the perception of landscape in order to create new places. These new places are a mental construction, and in them the object of my work is embedded: time deposits, memory and distance. At the same time, it allows me to research into the concealed and enigmatic side of these objects. I choose my materials with precision: thin rice papers, watercolors and photography.Furthermore, I restrict the color palette, the vanishing points, and materials in order to fully develop my creativity and concentration. I manipulate nature and light as an abstraction, to generate a mirror where the viewer finds himself. –Laura Viñas’ artist statement
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.
May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan, when traditional carp-shapedkoinoboriare flown in the air for children in the hope that they will grow up healthy and strong.
These carp patterns are usually drawn onto paper, cloth or unwoven fabric.
Although the traditional way of displaying koinobori is to hang them from high poles outside of homes, the people of Inomachi do things a little differently…
Since 1995 when the event started, hundreds of koinobori are gathered at the famous Niyodo River, where the townspeople and people around Japan come together to enjoy this annual celebration. The koinobori designs are all on unwoven cloth made locally, which are durable enough to be flown in the wind and ‘swim’ in the streams of Niyodo River. This unwoven cloth is an “in-between” of paper and cloth, since the synthetic fibers are bound together randomly like the characteristic of Japanese papermaking.
People can choose to see the swimming koinobori up-close on small boats!
The event is usually from April 24th – May 5th, throughout the long Japanese vacation of Golden Week.
I personally would love to see this in person someday!
Thank you Chinzei-san (Hidaka Washi) for the amazing pictures!
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.