WASHI PAPERMAKING

Today we visited a traditional Japanese paper maker. The hand made paper is called washi. The process of making paper is very complicated and specific, and we got a personal tour of the papermaker's workshop. Need I say this was another completely amazing experience which we would never have been able to have in a city? 

Yokono Washi (Japanese-style paper) dates back six generations to the paper made for the Tsuyama feudal lord Matsudaira and is famous across Japan as "Foiling Paper" when placed in between sheets of gold leaf. The Mitsumata, or oriental paper bush, grown in the Mimasaka region, is used as raw material, and we got to see it in all different stages of processing.

This traditional method of making paper relies almost completely on manual labour and has been passed on in the papermaker's family - he learned it from his father. 

 

The papermaker's house - it is way in the outskirts of the farming area. We would never have been able to experience this on our own, even Taeka-San had to stop and ask for directions.

The papermaker's house - it is way in the outskirts of the farming area. We would never have been able to experience this on our own, even Taeka-San had to stop and ask for directions.

Mitsumata bark drying outside. This bark gets boiled in a mixture of ashes and lime.

Mitsumata bark drying outside. This bark gets boiled in a mixture of ashes and lime.

Vat for boiling the fibers. 

Vat for boiling the fibers. 

The river by the papermaker's house where the boiled bark gets rinsed - sometimes the bark gets left in a river overnight. All the lime has to come off. The colder the water the better as it prevents bacteria from forming. Traditionally, papermaking was a winter activity of Japanese farmers, and it requires large volumes of clean running water. (This picture was taken in rain so the river looks a bit muddy with excessive surface runoff. It is normally very clear).

The river by the papermaker's house where the boiled bark gets rinsed - sometimes the bark gets left in a river overnight. All the lime has to come off. The colder the water the better as it prevents bacteria from forming. Traditionally, papermaking was a winter activity of Japanese farmers, and it requires large volumes of clean running water. (This picture was taken in rain so the river looks a bit muddy with excessive surface runoff. It is normally very clear).

The pulping machine.  It is huge - I am on the mezzanine taking the picture.

The pulping machine.  It is huge - I am on the mezzanine taking the picture.

Pulp machine bins viewed from the mezzanine

Pulp machine bins viewed from the mezzanine

Observing the mash that comes out of the pulping machine.
Observing the mash that comes out of the pulping machine.
Feeling the bark before it gets mashed. It is very durable, almost leather-like.

Feeling the bark before it gets mashed. It is very durable, almost leather-like.

Washing the pulp in water. The wash is made out of water, pulp and added starch called neri. Each sheet takes several rinsing movements back and forth - it looks a bit like sieving. The pulp has to settle evenly on the bamboo strainer mat - this becomes the thickness of the sheet.

Washing the pulp in water. The wash is made out of water, pulp and added starch called neri. Each sheet takes several rinsing movements back and forth - it looks a bit like sieving. The pulp has to settle evenly on the bamboo strainer mat - this becomes the thickness of the sheet.

Placing the pulp onto the wet board. Each wash makes a new sheet. Their daily rate is about three hundred sheets!

Placing the pulp onto the wet board. Each wash makes a new sheet. Their daily rate is about three hundred sheets!

Placing another sheet. There are maybe thirty sheets on the pile. When the pile is full, it gets lifted to a board where it is pressed to drain the water and keep the sheets completely flat. The sheet gets cut in half - the final papers are half the size of the bamboo mat.

Placing another sheet. There are maybe thirty sheets on the pile. When the pile is full, it gets lifted to a board where it is pressed to drain the water and keep the sheets completely flat. The sheet gets cut in half - the final papers are half the size of the bamboo mat.

Placing sheets to dry - a quick brush to get any small creases out of the wet sheet

Placing sheets to dry - a quick brush to get any small creases out of the wet sheet

Placing the next wet sheet from the slanted board. It is hard to describe how thin they are - think Saran Wrap made out of paper - and it is wet. Her movements were like ballet, slow and so precise. 

Placing the next wet sheet from the slanted board. It is hard to describe how thin they are - think Saran Wrap made out of paper - and it is wet. Her movements were like ballet, slow and so precise. 

And a special flick in the air and the sheet goes flat on the board. In the right spot. 

And a special flick in the air and the sheet goes flat on the board. In the right spot. 

Here the papermaker is removing dry sheets from the drying boards. She will now add this sheet to the pile behind her which has finished products ready for shipping. This load is going to Ishikawa Prefecture.

Here the papermaker is removing dry sheets from the drying boards. She will now add this sheet to the pile behind her which has finished products ready for shipping. This load is going to Ishikawa Prefecture.

Removing sheets from drying board. 

Removing sheets from drying board. 

Their friendly dog was in the back room by a pile of thicker stock

Their friendly dog was in the back room by a pile of thicker stock

Thicker art paper

Thicker art paper

At the back of the workshop was the paper store. We really loved the papers and bought some little cards. We can't carry much but really wanted to support the artistry of their work.   We asked about the red tint - it is achieved by adding some red clay to the pulp.  

At the back of the workshop was the paper store. We really loved the papers and bought some little cards. We can't carry much but really wanted to support the artistry of their work. 

We asked about the red tint - it is achieved by adding some red clay to the pulp.