Washi is one of the most representative of Japanese lifestyle and culture, and is a traditional Japanese paper.

About Washi (Japanese paper-和紙)

Washi is one of the most representative of Japanese lifestyle and culture, and is a traditional Japanese paper. It refers to paper made in Japan as opposed to Western paper, which was introduced from Europe and the United States.

Washi is used not only in Japan, but also in the restoration of cultural properties around the world, due to its preservation, flexibility and stability. They are also strong and durable, so there are Japanese umbrellas and even kimonos made of paper.

It is said that the reason Japanese fans, called Sensu, and Japanese lanterns, called Chochin, were born in Japan is because Japanese paper, which is resistant to folding, was used.
The life span of Japanese paper is said to be 1000 years, while the life span of Western paper is said to be 100 years.

The beginning of Washi, Japanese paper

The technique of making paper from linen fibers was invented in China.
There are various theories as to the origin of Japanese paper, but the prevailing theory is that it was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks from Korea in 610. A family register using Japanese paper in 702 in the Shosoin Repository in Nara prefecture is said to be the oldest domestic paper in Japan.

It was in the Nara period (710-794) that Kozo, which is easier to process than linen fibers, was used as a raw material.
As Buddhism flourished, so did the demand for paper for transcribing sutras. In the Heian period (794-1185), Japan’s unique papermaking technique was established, and thin, strong, and beautifully lustrous Japanese paper was born.
During the Edo period, a variety of processed products were produced in various parts of the country to add color to the lives of the common people.

Raw material for Japanese paper

Plants such as Kozo, Mitsumata and Gampi are the main raw materials of Japanese paper.

Kozo (楮)

The majority of Japanese paper is made from Kozo. Because of its long fiber and toughness, Kozo is used in a wide range of products. Kozo grows wild in the mountains and is easy to produce.

Mitsumata (三椏)

Mitsumata is characterized by its short fibers. Suitable for printing and used for postcards and stationery, Mitsumata is a tree that originated in China and has been used since the Edo period.

Ganpi (雁皮)

Ganpi, like Mitsumata, has short fibers and a smooth paper surface with a beautiful finish.
Ganpi is difficult to produce and production is low.
The beautiful luster of Ganpi paper has long been used for luxury products.

Water is essential for making Japanese paper

Water is the most important factor in making Japanese paper.
Good quality water is required in the process of washing and papermaking, called Nagashisuki, the raw material Kozo in water.
Soft water, which is low in calcium and magnesium, is suitable for making Japanese paper.

When we try to make Japanese paper with the tap water that we usually use, it is said that the paper turns red and discolored after a few years because the tap water contains chlorine.
Water is just water, but water is important. The quality of the paper is affected by the slight difference in the ingredients contained in the water.

A papermaking technique called “Nagashisuki” for making Japanese paper.

The basic technology for making paper came from China.
Later, however, Japan invented its own method of handmade paper, which is called “Nagashisuki”.

It is a method to mix mucilage called “Neri” with raw materials of paper, shake the paper material liquid, and make it easy to entangle the fibers with each other. The process is repeated several times, removing excess water and pumping in the paper material again.

It was popularized around the end of the Nara period (710-794), and it spread to many places because of its thin but strong paper.

The difference between Japanese paper and Western paper

Japanese paperWestern paper
FeaturesDepending on the region and ingredients, each one has a different feel and look.Constant quality and mass production is possible.
MaterialsKozo, Mitsumata, GanpiBroad-leaved trees, coniferous trees, etc.
SurfaceRough and unevenSmooth and uniform
Fiber lengthRelatively longRelatively short
PrintingHard to printEasy to print

In addition to the above, Japanese paper is highly preservative.
There is also a thing that discoloration and deterioration are likely to occur in a Western paper compared to Japanese paper.
However, since Japanese paper is handmade, it is not suitable for mass production. It is said that the production speed when cutting paper is limited to about 200 sheets a day, even for skilled craftsmen.

Where Washi is produced

Washi is produced all over the country, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and some of them have a long history, while others have just started in recent years.
Sekishu Washi in Shimane, Honmino Washi in Gifu, and Hosokawa Washi in Saitama were registered as Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO in 2014.
There are three points in common between these washi.

・The raw materials are domestically produced Kozo.

・There is a river with good quality water nearby.

・Traditional papermaking technique has been handed down from generation to generation.

In addition, Echizen paper, Mino paper, and Tosa paper, which are said to be Japan’s three Yamato papers, are also famous.

Products made from Japanese paper

Washi is a stationery for writing letters and pictures, and has also been used as a tool for wrapping things.
It has such a wide variety of uses that it is used for Fusuma, Shoji (paper sliding doors), Japanese lanterns, called Chochin, Japanese fans, called Sensu, clothes, and vessels.


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