Washi: traditional Japanese paper

Washi, a type of paper unique to Japan and one of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage objects, is made of fibers from the barks of mulberry (kozo) and gampi  trees and the mitsumata shrub. Hemp, bamboo, rice, and wheat are also used to make washi. There are some areas in Japan where you can see how washi is made. All sorts of things can be made from this unique Japanese paper that make wonderful presents or souvenirs to bring back home after a visit from Japan.

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Washi paper feels thicker and is more durable than conventional paper made of wood pulp. The word washi is the combination of two words: wa, meaning “Japanese” and shi, meaning “paper.” The term is used to describe paper made by hand with each sheet of washi painstakingly created. Each one comes out different from another.

Washi papers. | Tomomarusan

2435714653_6e42703687_zThe process in making washi involves dissolving plant fibers in water and pouring them onto a suketa (screen). The suketa is shaken to remove the excess water and the fibers are then flattened on the screen to create an even thickness. It is an intricate process that is oftentimes done during the cold months because cold running water is essential in the production process. The cold also helps prevent  the plant fibers from rotting and allows the fibers to contract, giving the paper a crisper feel. It is traditionally winter work for farmers to supplement their income during the lean months. Washi paper is used in making a variety of traditional Japanese everyday objects such as clothes, lamps, and toys, as well as ritual objects used by Shinto priests and for statues of Buddha.

Making washi. | Hideyuki KAMON

Three types of washi:

Mitsumatagami – usually ivory in color, it has a fine surface and is often used for printing and Japanese calligraphy (shodo). During the Meiji era, mitsumatagami was used to print paper money.

Kozogami – made from mulberry trees, it is the most common type of washi paper. It is almost as tough as cloth and can be treated to be water resistant, making it an ideal material to make traditional Japanese everyday things.

Ganpishi – has a smooth and shiny surface and is mostly used for books and crafts.

Check out this YouTube video by cae12810 on making washi:

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Click image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E-atPin7pQ