May 2017: Washi Tour Recap Part I

Yuki's Travels: HPI's 2017 Washi Tour Part I 

Every couple of years, Hiromi Paper invites World of Washi readers to participate in a Washi Tour through Japan--visiting papermakers and studios under a very unique light. This year's theme was "Conservation" and the tour was led by Yuki with assistance from Hiromi during the last two weeks of March. Here, Yuki recounts her experience leading the Washi Tour through several iconic paper locations in Part I of her recollection. 
Mitsumata blooming on the hillsides at Kochi (image credit: Yuki)  

Seven years ago, during my senior year of college, I had the opportunity to travel to Kochi Prefecture and visit all of the papermakers in the region. After meeting papermakers such as the Hamada brothers and toolmakers like Yamamoto-san, and witnessing the age-old traditions that they have inherited and immense responsibilities required to pass them on to future generations, I was hooked. This Kochi trip made me decide to be part of Hiromi Paper and the work that they do. Hiromi Paper is not only a high quality paper store, but a critical link that connects Japanese papermakers and artisans to artists/conservators around the world. Since then, I've visited many other papermaking regions in Japan, but being that this was my first time ever leading a Washi Tour with a record-breaking number of participants (16 people!), I was, understandably, a basket case.

Day 1: Kochi
Back to where it all began...
Once known as the "Kingdom of Washi", Kochi prefecture is still one of the largest papermaking regions in Japan, despite the substantial decrease in craftsmen over the years. What sets this region apart from others, besides their ability to locally source their kozo/mitsumata/gampi fibers used to make their papers, is also having a skilled toolmaker nearby to make or fix their paper making supplies. Kochi is an almighty papermaking region with a wide ranging selection of washi from handmade to machine made, using various raw materials.
2017 Washi Tour's participants assembled at entrance to Tosa Washi Village QRAUD 

When visiting Ino-machi one place you cannot pass up is the Japanese Paper Museum. This is the most detailed and comprehensive paper museum I've seen as it starts with the history of Washi which dates back over 2000 years. This was the first stop on the Washi Tour, so all of the participants (and myself) were eager to get off the tour bus and start exploring, learning, and shopping! After learning the history of each process of papermaking, the tour bus headed to our accommodations at Tosa Washi Village QRAUD where we met with Osamu Hamada and his mother in his studio. Osamu, who is one of the grandsons of the late Sajio Hamada (Tosa Tengucho maker) and younger brother of Hironao Hamada (current Tengucho maker) is a very skilled and dedicated handmade papermaker. Unlike his brother who only makes the Tosa Tengucho paper, Osamu makes high quality papers ranging in many different colors, thicknesses and sizes. We were all mesmerized by his live-action Usu Mino making and his showroom of colorful papers next to his studio.

Osamu Hamada making Usu Mino  (Photo: Jacinta Johnson)   

Day 2: Hidaka Washi & Yamamoto-san (toolmaker)
The next morning we headed to Hidaka Washi, a machinemade paper mill that is known for the thinnest 1.6gsm paper! After a detailed presentation of the company history and the various conservation papers Hidaka Washi makes, we toured the factory starting with the fiber preparation. The machines used to make the delicate Tengucho papers were quite impressive and were fine-tuned to ensure consistent thickness and quality of papers. Hidaka Washi papers are used in various conservation institutions around the world.

Hidaka Washi Tengucho being rolled (Photo: Jacinta Johnson) 

Our last stop in Kochi was to meet Yamamoto-san, one of the only craftsmen that makes tools used in Japanese papermaking. He makes the su (bamboo screen) and  keta (papermaking moulds) all by hand, a craft that he has been doing for almost 70 years. Yamamoto-san does not have any successors for his artistry and due to his age, his production has become minimal. The harsh reality of the decreasing number of papermakers is the same for toolmakers who are facing a generation that is losing interest in such modest professions as well as the decrease in raw materials used to make high quality papers and tools.
Toolmaker, Yamamoto-san, in his studio with the tour (Photo: Jacinta Johnson)  

Yamamoto-san demonstrating a repair on a su (screen) (Photo: Jacinta Johnson)

Day 3: Sekishu Washi & Izumo Mingei
In Sekishu, we were greeted by the Kubota family; Akira san, his son So and daughter Aya-san. So-san is the primary papermaker in the Kubota household, specializing in papers such as HP-06 Sekishu TsuruHP-07 Sekishu Mare and HP-60 Sekishu Torinoko Gampi . The significance of Sekishu papers is that the middle bark layer is not removed when preparing the kozo fibers which makes for a stronger and darker paper compared to other Japanese kozo papers. Akira-san has a close relationship with the Kingdom of Bhutan, having traveled to Paro several times to teach Japanese style paper making to Bhutanese craftsmen. Now Akira-san has passed down the Sekishu paper making to So-san and Aya-san.

So Kubota demonstrating his papermaking technique   
 Next stop: to meet Shinichiro Abe-san maker of Izumo Mingei!
Shinichiro-san's late grandfather Eishiro-san was the first individual to be appointed the National Living Treasure honor by the government in the Japanese papermaking field. In 1931, along with Soetsu Yanagi, Eishiro-san played a major role in the Japanese Mingei (Folk Craft) Movement with Bernard Leach, Kanjiro Kawai, Shiko Munakata and Kosuke Serizawa to name a few. The Abe Eishiro Memorial Hall in Matsue City houses the collection of important examples of washi, folk crafts and artwork from that time. The house that Shinichiro-san currently lives in is also like stepping into a museum, with priceless works of art covering the floors and walls. Despite feeling the pressure of his grandfather's legacy, Shinichiro-san and his brother work tirelessly to preserve the family traditions, by continuing to make beautiful Izumo Mingei papers. 

Shinichiro Abe-san (Izumo Mingeishi maker) 

Stay tuned for the second half of Yuki's Washi Tour recap, to be continued in the June World of Washi Newsletter!

Yuki practicing her washi making skills