History of Washi
was introduced to Japan over 1,300 years ago. The Chronicles
of Japan, Nihon Shoki, written in the year 720, state that
the Chinese methods of making ink and paper were introduced
to Japan by the Korean Buddhist priest, Doncho, in 610. The
Prince Regent Shotoku found the Chinese style paper too fragile
and encouraged the use of kozo (mulberry) and hemp fibers,
which were already cultivated for use in making textiles.
of making paper spread throughout the country and under his
patronage, the original process slowly evolved into the nagashizuki
method of making paper using kozo and neri (a viscous formation
aid.) These skills that have been passed down from generation
to generation produced a paper that was not only functional
but reflected the soul and spirit of the maker. This close
relationship between papermaker and paper user resulted in
washi's becoming an integral part of the Japanese culture.
the making of washi was very seasonal. Most of the papermakers
were farmers who planted kozo and hemp in addition to their
regular crops. The best washi was made during the cold winter
months. This coincided with the season when the farmers could
not work in their fields and the icy cold water was free of
impurities that could discolor the fibers. The fibers were
often spread out on the white snow banks to lighten naturally.
Thus, production was limited and unable to keep up with the
the Meiji period (mid-19th Century) the demand for paper greatly
increased. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the shift
from washi to western paper and from handmade to machine-made
papers. In spite of this change, the strong yet flexible washi
is still firmly rooted in the Japanese culture and is still
used for special religious purposes (both Buddhist and Shinto),
in the production of daily items like toys, fans, and garments,
for conservation purposes, and in its most universally recognized
function, traditional architecture.
Japanese papermakers rely upon washi's adaptability as they
try to maintain the age-old tradition of the process while
fulfilling the changing needs of society. As new applications
are developed for washi, this traditional material is being
reinforced into the daily lives of people, not only in Japan
but in countries around the world. Through international exhibitions,
demonstrations, and workshops, handmade Japanese paper is
being rediscovered for its versatility, beauty, and power
as an expressive medium appealing to the visual, tactile,
and emotional senses.
(Mulberry) bark is used in approximately 90% of the
washi made today. Kozo was originally found in the mountain
wilderness of Shikoku and Kyusu Islands. It became a
cultivated plant used especially for paper and cloth
making. It is a deciduous shrub that grows to a height
of 3 - 5 meters with the stem measuring up to 10cm across.
bush found in the mountainous, warm areas of Japan.
Gampi grows to 1.0 - 1.5 meters in height. It has been
used as a washi-making material for many years due to
the high quality of the fiber taken from the bark. The
finished paper is somewhat translucent and has a shiny
texture. Gampi cannot be cultivated and is therefore
rare and the most expensive of these three materials.
bush that originated in China. Mitsumata grows to 1.0
- 1.5 meters in height. Records indicate that it was
used in papermaking as early as 1614. The fibers are
shorter than Kozo's. Mitsumata papers have insect-repelling
Kozo is the primary
material for Washi and grows 10 feet between its annual harvest.
In winter, the Kozo shrubs are harvested by cutting the stalks
t equal lengths and bundled. The bark is made up of three
layers, the black outer layer (kurokawa), the middle green
layer (nazekawa), and the whiter inner layer (shirokawa).
There are some papers which use pieces of the outer black
bark and middle green layers, however most do not.
bundles are placed in wooden barrels and steamed . After
being steamed, water is then poured over the stalks enabling
the bark to slip off easily, at which time the fragrance
of Kozo is very rich.
and shaving Kozo bark
step is the removal of the black outer layer from the strips
of bark. The softened bark is carefully stepped on in water
and rubbed between the feet to remove the loosened black bark
without damaging he fibers. Then the green layer is carefully
scraped away with a knife. The natural whiteness of the paper
is determined by how much of the green layer is removed. Any
discoloration or branch scars are also removed. The strip
of bark is kept in as long as a piece as possible. The now
cleaned white bark (shirokawa) is dried in a cool, shaded
area until ready for further processing.
in the River
bark is then placed in the shallow waters of a clean running
river to wash away all impurities, at the same time bleaching
of the Kozo bark occurs in direct sunlight giving it a natural
Kozo white bark
is done in a large tub until the white bark is very soft.
It is very important in this step to cook the bark evenly
so that the fibers have a consistent makeup. The fibers are
cooked for about two hours in an alkali solution. Traditionally
the alkali used was extracted from wood ash (pot ash), but
now slaked lime, soda ash, caustic soda, or lye are generally
used instead. The alkali solution is heated until it boils
and then is lowered to a simmer. As the fibers soften, the
bulk of the fibers decrease. The quality and feel of the washi
is determined by the amout of non-cellulose materials contained
in the fibers. When a strong alkali is used, most of the non-cellulose
materials are dissolved and this results in a soft paper,
on the other hand, when a wek alkali is used moreof these
materials remain resulting in paper which has more body. The
type of alkali used can also affect the color and feel of
the dark spots)
and cleansing process after the fibers are cooked is called
"Chiritori>" A small amount of the cooked fiber
is put into a bamboo basket floating in water and then any
scar tissue, buds, unevenly cooked parts or siscolored areas
are removed by hand. If white paper is to be made, the fibers
are bleached before the chiritori process. Usually
sodium hypochlorite is used but natural bleaching methods
using water or snow are still sometimes used.
fibers are beaten on a stone using a wooden mallet. This is
done man times to create a fibrillation. The sound of this
process is loud and rhythmic, adding to the atmosphere of
Japanese paper manufactuing.
pieces of papermaking equipment are the vat (suki bune) and
mould (suketa). The vat is usually made from pine or cedar
but a stainless steel liner may be added for durability. The
Japanese style papermaking mould consists of two parts. The
specially made flexible removable screen (su) is made of fine
bamboo strips held in place by silk threads.
using Nagashisuki method
and Neri are mixed in water very well. Then using a Su (bamboo
screen) and Keta(wood frame) the mixture is moved aback and
forth, and side across the mold to form the sheet. The fiber
settles and the step is repeated again and again depending
on the desired thickness is achieved. This method is very
different from the Tamezuki or accumulation method of making
paper. The Tamezuki method is the Japanese term for the western
The first scoop is shallow dip that is quickly flowed across
the surface of the screen to form the face or front of the
sheet of paper. The excess pulp is allowed to flow over the
far edge of the mould. The rapid movement prevents any hard
particles from setting on the screen surface. The next step
consists of a deeper scoop into the vat and the pulp flows
over the screen several times before any excess is allowed
to flow over the far edge. This step is repeated several times
until the desired thickness is achieved. The movement of the
pulp mixture on the screen surface varies according to the
kind of paper being made. There is an overhead bamboo suspension
system that helps to counterbalance the weight of the pulp
mixture on the screen surface. This makes it easier to move
the mixture over the surface.
Pressing and separating
with the comptelted sheet os paper is then removed from the
mould and couched (paper removed from the screen) onto a special
stand that holds the post of newly made papers. The screen
is aligned using the placement guides and carefully lowered
onto the previously made sheet in such a manner as not to
trap any air between the papers. The screen is then removed
by lifting the edge nearest the papermaker, then it is lifted
off away from the papermaker. The post of completed papers
is left overnight to drain naturally. Then it is carefully
pressed, lightly in the beginning then gradually more presure
is applied in order not to damage the paper. The post is pressed
for about 6 hours until approximately 30% of the moisture
by sun and wind
of paper are staced and pressed gradually overnight to remove
excess water. The paper is then separated and one by one
placed on drying boards and taken out into the sun. The
sun and wind will dry and bleach the paper, making an impressive
sight on a fine day.
sheets of Kozo paper are geld up to the light, then classified
by tickness, color, etc. Through all this natural process
the Washi has acquired a warm, delicate look and strength.
Now the washi is erady to be used!