One of my brags about my country “Cool Japan” is the Japanese traditional paper –“WASHI” (和紙).
In Japan, the popularity of traditional Japanese paper has declined and has revived. Today, across countries, the name “Washi” is known all over the world, and the name “Washi” is known as “Washi tape”.
Washi has been over 1400 year-history in Japan and it became a general term for the paper made in Japan no matter what handmade or machine-made, 100% domestic, or imported raw materials.
Even in Japan, the home decor, accessories, or stationary made with washi has been trending with its warmth and simple design.
I am from Gifu, Japan and there is Mino city where is famous for the traditional washi paper.
So, here is the informative Washi guide what you want to know.
What Is The Exact Washi Paper
Roughly speaking, “Washi” is the Japanese traditional paper made of long fibers from mainly three local plants.
Originally, the term “Washi” didn’t exist until machine-made (imported) papers introduced in Japan.
From the beginning of the 19th century, Japanese paper began to be called Washi or Wakami. It was because considered to classify into a different category from the machine-made paper introduced to Japan from the Western countries.
Before introducing machine-made paper technology, traditional washi had been regularly used for a long time in Japan.
Making (washi) paper manufacturing was popular especial in regions where high-quality pure water was supplied. Mainly made from local plants such as Gampi, Kozo, Mitsumata, and are made via several sensitive processing by craftsmen.
Still today, its quality is strong and also excellent as an art paper.
Washi Has The Complex Definition
As I mentioned, Washi was referred to as a “handmade paper made in domestic”.
After the 17th century, machine washi-paper making had been introduced for mass-producing and began to use imported raw materials due to the shortage of domestic raw materials, so even those papers can be called “Washi” these days.
Therefore, it is difficult to properly define Japanese paper.
Yet, it is hard to tell you between two- a handmade washi and a machine-made washi which is better.
The procedure and technology of machine-made washi are certainly designed based on traditional handmade techniques, and with the passion of craftsmen, it contributes to the development of traditional yet modern washi.
Also, we can get Washi paper that used imported raw materials or machine-made at a reasonable price.
Features Of Washi Paper
- Excellent Durability
Washi is made by entwining fibers itself, making it more durable. Since it uses only natural raw materials, will not deteriorate even over 1000 years.
In fact, the washi made about 1300 years ago remains in Japan.
As the name implies, handmade Japanese paper is hand-made paper.
The strong washi, especially made from “Kozo” mulberry, which is a long fiber, as the main raw material, is made by the unique Japanese method of making “nagashi-suki”.
“Nagashi-suki (流し漉き)” is the technique that is a solution well-combined Kouzo fiber and pure water mixed with “vegetable mucus” called “Neri” is scooped from the front into a Mould frame screen, and shaken to improve the entanglement of fibers. By doing this, excess water is run to the other side, and also it is possible to make a reasonably thin and strong paper with a small amount of material.
World Heritage – Japanese Traditional Paper Making Techniques
Intangible cultural heritage
Three kinds of Japanese washi paper, Hosokawa washi in Saitama prefecture, Mino washi in Gifu prefecture, and Ishishu banshi/washi in Shimane prefecture, have been registered as intangible cultural heritage since 2014.
Intangible cultural heritage covers various things such as folklore, dance, performing arts, folk music, ceremonies, festivals, traditional craft techniques, and social customs, which are registered considered by UNESCO to be cultural heritage.
Hosokawa Kozo Washi Paper (Hosokawa-shi) In Saitama Prefecture
Hosokawa washi aka Hosokawa-Shi (細川紙) made in Ogawa Town and Higashi Chichibu Village, Saitama Prefecture. It is said that its history is 1,300 years and became popular as local manufacturing around the 17th century.
Especially due to its durable paper quality and the location is close to Edo (Tokyo), Hosokawa-Shi has been greatly developed since the 17th century.
The smooth surface is hard to fluff and has excellent durability and storage stability.
Hosokawa-shi is also listed in National Important Intangible Cultural Property, there are strict contracts to be called “Hosokawa-shi”.
- The raw material must be Kozo only.
- The procedure must be followed by the traditional processes with traditional tools.
- It must have the characteristics of Hosokawa-shi, such as color and texture.
Mino Washi Paper In Gifu Prefecture
Papermaking has been practiced in Gifu prefecture since ancient times. Mino washi (美濃和紙) is thin, durable, and evenly entwined, so it is preferred to be used for shoji screens paper.
Mino washi is also strictly classified by its raw materials and only 10% of Mino washi paper can be called “Hon-Mino Washi” which means the authentic Mino washi.
As a cotract, the raw material is 100% Kozo and need to use traditional equipments.
Beautiful washi paper imbued with craftmanship. With soft and elegant finish orderly entwined fibers with the sensitive straining technique vertically and horizontally.
Sekishu(u) Washi & Banshi In Shimane Prefecture
Sekishu Washi is produced in the western part of Shimane prefecture and the Iwami region. It is a beautiful paper that is not only tough but also glossy.
The most distinctive feature of “Sekishu Washi” is a high-quality finish as “the strongest washi paper in Japan”. By using Kozo mulberry with the inside skin remained, the fibers of the paper become longer and hard to tear.
Kozo mulberry has three layers of skin itself. When the inside skin (under the outside hard skin) of Kozo is removed, the paper finishes beautiful white paper, so most of the washi-making methods in other regions do not use the inside skin.
To use the two kinds of inside skins together, the color is slightly yellowish but it makes Sekishu washi the most durable in Japan.
In the early 19th century, many households used to make washi as a side business, but as the machine manufacturing method became widespread, the number of households making washi decreased, and today there are very few craftsmen making Sekisyu washi.
Take Washi More Friendly To The Daily life
The Japanese aesthetic demanded beautiful thin paper created the unique processing technology.
Not only using for Japanese calligraphy, Japanese paper was used but also for various purposes in daily life such as shoji screens, lantern shade, Japanese handy fans, and Japanese traditional umbrellas.
By the way, Japanese bills are made with “washi”.
Moreover, the usage of washi has been getting a revival with the trending “Cool Japan” – a Japanese tradition.
There is a Tatami mat made from “washi”, Washi tatami mats have the nice advantages of keeping its color tatami mat, excellent durability, and being less prone to unpleasant mites and mold.
It’s also popular as home decor. Washi paper lamp shade can bring warmth and healing effect even in a modern design.
By the way, Origami made of Japanese-like design Washi paper is specially called “Chiyogami” (千代紙).
Washi, which is carefully created with craftsmanship, is a traditional technique that Japan can be proud of in the world and has been preserved its aesthetic.
Washi has many charms. Not only its aesthetically pleasing, but also its excellent durability.
It’s nice to try to create a space where you can be relaxed by incorporating unique stuff made of Japanese paper.
Speaking of “Washi” “Chiyogami”, do you know the meaning of paper cranes, especially a thousand paper canes???