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History of Washi

Papermaking 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.

The techniques 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.

Traditionally, 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 changing demands.

During 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.

Today 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.

Materials Used

Kozo

Kozo (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.

 

Gampi

A 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.

 

 

Mitsumata

A 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 qualities.

 

 

The Process of Making Washi

Preparation of the Materials

 

Harvesting Kozo Shrubs

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.

Steaming Kozo

The Kozo 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.

Stripping and shaving Kozo bark

The next 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.

Bleaching in the River

The light 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 white color.

Cooking Kozo white bark

Cooking 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 paper.

Chiritori (Removing the dark spots)

The rinsing 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.

Beating

The Kozo 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.

Tools

Two essential 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.

Sheet formation using Nagashisuki method

Kozo pulp 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 style papermaking.
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 the sheets

The screen 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 is removed.

Drying by sun and wind

Hundreds 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.

 

Inspection and finishing

Dried 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!