June 2017: Washi Tour Recap Part II

Approximately every two years, HPI staff lead a group of 10-15 paper enthusiasts from every field of art and conservation through Japan on a very unique tour of paper mills, conservation studios, tool craftsmen workshops, and cultural centers. This year's tour was led by Yuki with some assistance from Hiromi. Here Yuki recounts the second half of the tour (for the first half of the recap refer to our World of Washi MAY 2017 edition)...


...and on we went:

The longest bus ride of the trip came after visiting Yakumo's Izumo Mingei. After six hours of riding through long and windy roads, we arrived in Fukui, known for their Echizen Washi. We visited both Iwano mills; Makiko Iwano's mill that produces a variety of large size papers and Ichibei Iwano, Kizuki Hosho maker and National Living Treasure for papermaking.

After her father Heizaburo's passing in 2016, his daughter Makiko has taken over managing the papermill, which is one of the most prominent factories producing large-size handmade Iwano papers. Because the sheets are so large, it takes at least two people to make one sheet of paper using a precise and synchronized motion-- a dance of sorts. Most papermaking duos have been paired together for a long time, which helps to establish a stronger bond and thus more consistent sheets of paper.
Next stop, to meet one of the two remaining National Living Treasures for papermaking, Ichibei Iwano-san (Ninth generation). Ichibei-san's Kizuki Hosho is well known around the world, cherished by artists and museums worldwide. During our visit, he was making special order Kizuki Hosho papers for the Louvre conservation department. His papers are used in traditional Ukiyo-e woodblock printing, conservation and other more contemporary methods. A few years ago when Yayoi Kusama made limited edition prints with the Adachi Institute, all of the papers used were made by Ichibei-san.
  Although his papermaking career is reaching 70 years, Ichibei-san is one of the most humble papermakers that I have met. He does not boast about his accomplishments nor does he put himself on a pedestal for his National Living Treasure title. He told us that he's always been an honest, diligent and hardworking person and that mindset simply reflects onto his beautiful papers.

Before leaving Echizen, we paid our respects to the Paper Goddess, Kami-no-Gozen, at the breathtaking Okamoto Shrine.
Okamoto Shrine 

(photo: Yoshinao Sugihara) 

Our last papermaker stop on the tour was to the Fukunishi family, maker of the Uda-Gami paper and Nara Natural Dyed paper. Masayuki Fukunishi is the sixth generation papermaker of Uda-Gami, which originated in the Edo period. Locally grown Nara kozo fibers are cooked with wood ash, and uses only all-natural materials. Unlike other papermaking regions, the neri used to make Uda-Gami is called
where the plant bark is used to make the viscous substance. The last ingredient that is unique to Uda-gami is the use of clay. Powdered clay is added to the fibers to prevent insects, strengthen the papers against heat and prevent stretching or shrinking. Uda-gami is primarily used for conservation and backing/mounting. 
Photo: Jacinta Johnson 
During our visit, Fukunishi-san was in the middle of making a paper dyed with...tomato stems! The raw tomato stems are cooked (some with baby tomatoes still attached) in a pot to extract just the yellowish juice that the kozo fibers are then dyed in.
The Nara Natural Dyed papers are also dyed using natural dyes such as mugwort, indigo, cherry tree or mimosa plants. Since the colors contain zero chemicals, these papers are also fade resistant!

Cooking the tomato stems before dyeing  
Thank you to the Fukunishi family for making our last papermaker stop so memorable!
The busy day ended with a delicious Japanese dinner in Nara City accompanied by Minato-san. The next day there was some free time in Nara before visiting Kobaien, the oldest sumi maker in Japan.
Founded in 1577, more than 400 years ago, Kobaien is a family-run manufacturer, operating with a small team of craftsmen who specialize in making Sumi, a traditional, textured ink used for calligraphy, sumi-e painting, etc.

Soot from meticulously burning branches with natural oils is mixed with nikawa (cow skin glue) and fragrances to create solid chunk of sumi which is then measured, cast, dipped in dust then hung to dry for several years. 
Sumi craftsman collecting the soot formed on the lid 
Sumi pieces hung to dry 
Our final stop on the Washi Tour was to meet Sekichi-san at his conservation studio Bokusendo in Kyoto. Sekichi-san and his team of skilled conservators work on National Treasure-level works of art and Important Cultural Assets on a daily basis. We were shown jars and jars of furu-nori or aged paste which is essentially jin shofu that has been resting for five to ten years. When jin shofu is aged, it weakens the adhesive strength which can be used for backing or to treat much older works of art without damaging the artifact. No detailed photographs were permitted in the studio, but the three hours we spent there were highly educational and dense, a special treat for the professional conservators that were on the tour! 
Regular Jin-Shofu: wheat paste 
Furu-nori: aged paste  

Leading the Washi Tour was exhausting! To be able to experience all that we did really was hard work. The size of the group was the largest in Hiromi Paper history (16 people), and the long travel times definitely took a toll on everyone. But -- I loved it and would absolutely do this again. Reuniting with papermakers from various regions, being able to show conservators and artists what it takes to make beautiful Washi, and helping educate them on the traditions and methods of Japan was a privilege and connecting papermakers to the people that actually use their papers is why we do what we do. I'd love to do another Washi Tour again in 2019. Who's with me??