Fall 2008: Shikoku Gampi

Fall 2008, Volume 14, No. 4 

The Gampi Paper of Shikoku Wagami
By Tsuyoshi Ageta

Gampi, a raw material used in making washi, has been used just as long as kozo, another material in washi making. Gampi paper is called the “King of Paper” because of its very fine fibers, which result in high quality, beautiful paper.

Unlike kozo, the cultivation of the gampi is difficult because of its slow growth. If one uses gampi to make washi, wild gampi has to be obtained. Therefore, the chiritori process becomes difficult since many chiri (dirt and dust particles or damaged fibers) have to be removed. Though making gampi paper is a tough process, it is worth the beautiful quality it results in.

Shikoku Wagami is a factory that specializes in making gampi papers. Everyday there are workers who spend day and night solely removing the chiri from the gampi fiber. This chiritori process doesn’t require special skills, but is very labor intensive. I myself have experienced this chiritori process once before. I spread the gampi fiber on the palm of my hand and looked for the tiny, black chiri to remove them. The chiri would come up over and over again, and each time I would have to take them out. Even after one to two hours of the process, only a little portion of the gampi fiber was ready.

While I performed this tedious task, I thought to myself what the gampi papers were used for, and at that second, I imagined somebody with a sad expression holding up a finished gampi paper with the chiri still left behind and another with a blissful expression holding up a flawless one. Then, I realized why these workers continue to perform this tedious task: to see their customers’ excited, pleased faces when they see the product in their hand.

Gampi paper developed into copying paper because of its smooth and transparent surface. Around the year 1900, the use of gampi paper drastically increased as the paper was developed for mimeographs. To be used for mimeographs, a thin sheet of gampi is covered with wax, then words are written with pencil and holes are formed. Through the holes, the ink seeps through to print. This easy method of printing spread throughout Japan. I remember my teachers in elementary school used this method to create answer sheets and I would use it to create anthologies.

Shikoku Wagami has been the number one factory in producing gampi paper in Japan. Today we have added machines to make the process faster. After the workers handpick the chiri out of the gampi fiber, it is processed through the machine for another intense chiritori in three different stages. Also, with this machine, two types of paper can be processed at once to produce one paper, which is our surface gampi paper.

Today 53-year-old Akiyoshi Kariya, who is the third generation from his grandfather, runs this factory. His personality is gentle like the gampi papers and he has great expectations for the future of the factory.