That Beautiful Japanese Paper called Washi by cex51483


									                    That Beautiful Japanese Paper called Washi
                                  Contributed by Hisanon Hatamoto

Handmade Japanese paper is deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life, and has been very
important in our culture’s development. It is the material of the craftsman, the tea master, the
painter and calligrapher. Fusuma and shoji (a paper sliding door) are part of every house. Fans,
lamps, lanterns, boxes and containers, and envelopes with red-(black)and-white paper strings are
important in our daily life.

Japanese washi paper is soft yet strong, durable as well as beautiful and breathes well. There is
warmth in it because it is handmade. It is said that Japanese washi can be made the thinnest,
toughest, and most durable of all handmade papers in the world. Yet it is also highly praised for
its delicate appearance. Lighting with washi paper used as electric light shades is popular these
days. Absorbing bulb light from its source, the paper emits a soft, warm glow.

A Short History
It is said that the paper was introduced to Japan from China through Korea in the 6 century, at
the same time as Buddhism. Family registers on paper from certain provinces and dating from the
year 702 are now stored in the Shoso-in, the imperial repository at Todaiji Temple in Nara
prefecture. They are thought to be the oldest extant examples of Japanese washi.

The Nara Period (710-794) saw the centralization of political authority, and its attendant
bureaucracy linked to the dramatic expansion of the Buddhist priesthood created a heavy
demand for paper. There are recorded over 233 different types of paper made by 20 provinces.

The Heian Period (794-1185) was the golden age of quality and variety in paper making. The
growing courtly culture created a wider demand for both official papers and luxuriously decorated
sheets on which to keep diaries, write poems, etc. Each region of the country came to be known
for its own special type of paper. Beautifully dyed and elaborately decorated papers from this
period are still in excellent condition today and can be found in museum displays and private

The Kamakura, Muromachi, and Azuchi-Momoyama Periods (1185-1600). The rise of the
warrior class, the change to a feudal form of government, and a decline in the economic and
political fortunes of the imperial court all reduced the demand for fancy paper, but stimulated
increased production of good-quality utility paper by cottage industries. The development of
printing, markets, and freer architectural use of paper for screen and partition coverings added a
new dimension to paper consumption.

The Edo Period (1600-1868) was politically stable and allowed the pursuit of learning and official
encouragement for provincial openings of print centers. For the first time both books and paper
became freely available for all. Feudal lords established paper making centers in their own
domains so they could have a personal paper source. Paper was the second greatest source of
tax income outside of rice. So much paper was made available that for the first time in history,
paper was readily available and accessible to all classes of people. Many centers produced
surplus paper which found its way into the markets of Edo (now Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto.

The Meiji Period (1868-Present) found western paper making technology introduced into Japan
in the 1870’s, and since the early 20 century expanse and limited production have made it
difficult for artisan paper makers to compete with industrial paper manufactures.

Various Kinds Of Washi
Washi paper is unique because it is produced from the bark fibers of three shrubs: Kozo (paper
mulberry), Gampi (a plant indigenous to Japan, daphne family), and Mitsumata (daphne family),
whereas foreign paper or machine-made paper is made from wood pulp.

The fiber of the shrubs is itself longer than wood fiber. The length of fiber in Kozo is 7.3mm on
average, Mitsumata3.2mm and Gampi 5.0mm. Whereas the length of wood pulp fiber is much
shorter, 2.3mm in the case of softwoods such as pine and fir and 1.02mm in the case of
hardwoods such as beech and oak. The longer the fibers are, the easier they intermesh and the
stronger the sheet formed.

One of the three primary components in plants is lignin, which is the most harmful to paper
making. It makes paper weaker and also discolors the paper affecting its quality. However, the
fiber of the shrubs has little lignin, so it can be eliminated with chemicals without damaging the

Kozo fibers are thicker and longer than those of other materials and create the typical impression
that washi is known for when fashioned into a product. Thick paper represents a masculine
toughness and thin paper feminine softness and pliability. Both are strong and highly durable.

Gampi paper has superlative beauty and dignity and is called the king of washi. Its short, thin
fibers realize a finely-textured, high-density washi with a smooth surface of a natural reddish
cream color. Gampi fibers are delicate and have a natural viscosity, so although forming them
into paper requires sophisticated techniques, the finished product is both beautiful and durable.

Mitsumata paper is similar to Gampi paper. Mitsumata was used as a paper material in the late
16 century but the plant was easily cultivated so it has become popular. Its surface is smooth
and highly suitable for writing small, thin letters and characters in Indian ink. This paper earned
high praise, especially in Europe, when it was introduced to the World Exposition held in Vienna
in 1878. After that Japanese banknotes were made from Mitsumata paper but today, because of
cost, most banknotes are made from Manila hemp paper.

Some kinds of washi are named after the plants they are made from, for example, “Kozo-shi” and
“Mitsumata-shi”. Some washi is also named according to where it is made. For example, “Mino-
washi” in Gifu Prefecture, “Tosa-washi” in Kochi Prefecture. In Hiroshima, there is a papermaking
factory in Otake, where Kozo plants are cultivated and used as raw materials for paper.

The Process
1. Materials: Kozo, Mitsumata and Gampi bark is used for handmade paper.
2. Boiling: The bark is put into water and boiled with alkaline chemicals (lime, soda ash) for 2-4
   hours. These chemicals dissolve all the non-fiber elements contained in the material.
3. Washing and Bleaching: The bark is then soaked in the water and the scum is washed away.
   It is left in the flowing water for 3-4 days, where it is bleached by sunlight. As an alternative,
   a bleaching solution is used.
4. Removal of Impurities: To remove any further impurities the material is put into a basket, and
   foreign elements are removed.
5. Beating: The bark is then beaten with a wooden stick to loosen the fiber. More recently a
   machine used for this part of the process. The loosened fibers disperse more easily in the
6. Dispersion: Put into a basket in the water and stirred with an agitator.
7. Koburi (screening): This liquid is then put into a tank for screening, and is stirred well with a
   stick. A mucous like liquid which has been extracted from the roots of Tororoaoi is now
   added. The fibers are evenly dispersed and screened with Sugeta, sheet by sheet.
8. Pressing: When a sheet of screened paper is placed upon another, these sheets shape into a
   “shito” which literally means a “paper bed”. The shito was pressed slowly with a heavy stone
   in the olden time but recently a jack is used to press and dehydrate it.
9. Drying: The sheets of paper are picked up one by one. They are spread on a drying board or
   an iron plate and smoothed out with a brush, and they are dried in the sun or with a drier.

Washi Today
While mass-produced, Western-style paper is used everywhere in daily life in Japan, Japanese
traditional washi still remains indispensable for specific purposes and therefore inseparable from
Japanese culture. Its soft, tough and durable characteristics are not found in any other papers,
and its beauty and delicacy have brought it wider appreciation.

White materials have been associated with purity in many cultures. Paper is no exception. Washi
as well as rice was offered to the gods. Pure white washi also found an important role in the
Shinto observances. The custom of wrapping gifts with washi paper has continued until now.
Since the whiteness inherent to washi is a symbol of purity, it is always used at such felicitous
occasions as births, engagements and marriages.

One form of wrapping commonly used today is called noshi-zutsumi. It is a decorative, formal
wrapping, made by folding paper, with a strip, symbolizing a happy occasion, and ornamental
strings, also made of twisted paper. For a less formal gift, an envelope with the symbolic strip and
the ornamental strings printed on it is used instead. Such traditional customs as the use of money
envelopes are still widespread today. With money, usually bills, enclosed inside, the envelopes
are given to bridal couples at weddings or to children at New Year's as otoshi-dama (literally, gem
of the year) by parents, grandparents, and other close relatives.

Printed paper is a type of washi paper decorated with brightly colored, woodblock-printed patterns
which was first produced by ukiyo-e artists in the late 18th century. Today it is used for a variety
of handicrafts, such as covering small boxes and making paper dolls.

If you would like to enjoy some of the pleasures of washi, please join the “Washi Covered Tea
Box “ craft project coming in January. Also visit the following website for more information on the
history and process of making washi.

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