ArtId Art Blog
History of Washi Papermaking was introduced to Japan over 1,300 years ago. The Chronicles of Japan, Nohon Shoki, written in the year 720, states that the Chinese methods of making ink and paper were introduced to Japan by the Korean Buddhist priest, Doncho, in 610. The Prince Regent Shotoku found the Chinese style paper too fragile and encouraged the use of kozo (mulberry) and hemp fibers, which were already cultivated for use in making textiles. The techniques of making paper spread throughout the country and under his patronage, the original process slowly evolved into the nagashizuki method of making paper using kozo and neri (a viscous formation aid.) These skills that have been passed down from generation to generation produced a paper that was not only functional but reflected the soul and spirit of the maker. This close relationship between papermaker and paper user resulted in washi's becoming an integral part of the Japanese culture. Traditionally, the making of washi was very seasonal. Most of the papermakers were farmers who planted kozo and hemp in addition to their regular crops. The best washi was made during the cold winter months. This coincided with the season when the farmers could not work in their fields and the icy cold water was free of impurities that could discolor the fibers. The fibers were often spread out on the white snow banks to lighten naturally. Thus, production was limited and unable to keep up with the changing demands. During the Meiji period (mid-19th Century) the demand for paper greatly increased. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the shift from washi to western paper and from handmade to machine-made papers. In spite of this change, the strong yet flexible washi is still firmly rooted in the Japanese culture and is still used for special religious purposes (both Buddhist and Shinto), in the production of daily items like toys, fans, and garments, for conservation purposes, and in its most universally recognized function, traditional architecture. Today Japanese papermakers rely upon washi's adaptability as they try to maintain the age-old tradition of the process while fulfilling the changing needs of society. As new applications are developed for washi, this traditional material is being reinforced into the daily lives of people, not only in Japan but in countries around the world. Through international exhibitions, demonstrations, and workshops, handmade Japanese paper is being rediscovered for its versatility, beauty, and power as an expressive medium appealing to the visual, tactile, and emotional senses. Japanese Paper-making Preparation of the Materials Kozo, used in 90% of Japanese papers, is harvested from December to February after the leaves drop. The stalks are first cut into 1.2 meter lengths and steamed in special steamers to make the bark easier to remove. The bark is then stripped off in one stroke from the bottom to the top of the cut stalk. The stripped bark (kurokawa) is hung in bunches to dry. The dried strips are then soaked overnight. The bark is made up of three layers, the black outer layer (kurokawa), the middle green layer (nazekawa), and the white inner layer (shirokawa). There are some papers which use pieces of the outer black bark and middle green layers, however most do not. The next step is the removal of the black outer layer from the strips of bark. The softened bark is carefully stepped on in water and rubbed between the feet to remove the loosened black bark without damaging the fibers. Then the green layer is carefully scraped away with a knife. The natural whiteness of the paper is determined by how much of the green layer is removed. Any discolorations or branch scars are also removed. The strip of bark is kept in as long a piece as possible. The now cleaned white bark (shirokawa) is dried in a cool, shaded area until ready for further processing. Before cooking, the dried bark is soaked overnight in running water to help dissolve any water soluble elements such as starches and tannins. This makes it easier for the alkali solution to penetrate the fibers. The fibers are then cooked for about two hours in an alkali solution. Traditionally the alkali used was extracted from wood ash (potash), but now slaked lime, soda ash, caustic soda, or lye are generally used instead. The alkali solution is heated until it boils and then is lowered to a simmer. As the fibers soften, the bulk of the fibers decrease. The quality and feel of the washi is determined by the amount of non-cellulose materials contained in the fibers. When a strong alkali is used, most of the non-cellulose materials are dissolved and this results in a soft paper, on the other hand, when a weak alkali is used more of these materials remain resulting in paper which has more body. The type of alkali used can also affect the color and feel of the paper. The rinsing and cleansing process after the fibers are cooked is called 'chiritori'. A small amount of the cooked fiber is put into a bamboo basket floating in water and then any scar tissue, buds, unevenly cooked parts, or discolored areas are removed by hand. If white paper is to be made, the fibers are bleached before the chiritori process. Usually sodium hypochlorite is used but natural bleaching methods using water or snow are still sometimes used. The beating of the fiber is usually done by hand on a stone or wooden surface. The fiber is beaten until it is completely separated. These days the beating is sometimes done by machines such as automated stampers or 'naginata' beaters, that use a curved blade to separate the fibers. Equipment Two essential pieces of papermaking equipment are the vat (suki bune) and mould (suketa). The vat is usually made from pine or cedar but a stainless steel liner may be added for durability. The Japanese style papermaking mould consists of two parts. The specially made flexible removable screen (su) is made of fine bamboo strips held in place by silk threads. The silk threads are treated with persimmon tannin for wet strength. The number of bamboo strips per centimeter varies according to the kind of paper to be made. The hinged wooden frame (keta) holds the screen in place and is usually made from Japanese cypress. Papermaking Process There are three basic steps in forming a sheet of washi using the Nagashizuki or flowing method of papermaking. This method is very different from the Tamezuki or accumulation method of making paper. The Tamezuki method is the Japanese term for the western style papermaking. The first scoop is a shallow dip that is quickly flowed across the surface of the screen to form the face or front of the sheet of paper. The excess pulp is allowed to flow over the far edge of the mould. The rapid movement prevents any hard particles from settling on the screen surface. The next step consists of a deeper scoop into the vat and the pulp flows over the screen several times before any excess is allowed to flow over the far edge. This step is repeated several times until the desired thickness is achieved. The movement of the pulp mixture on the screen surface varies according to the kind of paper being made. There is an overhead bamboo suspension system that helps to counter-balance the weight of the pulp mixture on the screen surface. This makes it easier to move the mixture over the surface. The screen with the completed sheet of paper is then removed from the mould and couched (paper removed from the screen) onto a special stand that holds the post of newly made papers. The screen is aligned using the placement guides and carefully lowered onto the previously made sheet in such a manner as not to trap any air between the papers. The screen is then removed by lifting the edge nearest the papermaker, then it is lifted off away from the papermaker. The post of completed papers is left overnight to drain naturally. Then it is carefully pressed, lightly in the beginning then gradually more pressure is applied in order not to damage the paper. The post is pressed for about 6 hours until approximately 30% of the moisture is removed. The pressed sheets are then removed one by one from the post and brushed onto boards or steam heated surfaces to dry. The drying method affects the finished paper. When thick paper is dried mechanically, the surface may become fuzzy so natural drying is preferred. The finished paper may be sized (or coated) with dosa (a mixture of potassium alum and animal glue that reduces ink bleeding), konnyaku (a starch derived from the root of the Amorphopallus konjac), or Kakishibu (persimmon tannin). It may also be dyed with chemical or natural dyes or textured to make papers like Momigami or Kyosei-shi. The papers are given a final check before being made available for sale. Materials
The following three fibers are the primary fibers used in Japanese papermaking:
KOZO Kozo (Mulberry) bark is used in approximately 90% of the washi made today. Kozo was originally found in the mountain wilderness of Shikoku and Kyusu Islands. It became a cultivated plant used especially for paper and cloth making. It is a deciduous shrub that grows to a height of 3 - 5 meters with the stem measuring up to 10cm across.
GAMPI A bush found in the mountainous, warm areas of Japan. Gampi grows to 1.0 - 1.5 meters in height. It has been used as a washi-making material for many years due to the high quality of the fiber taken from the bark. The finished paper is somewhat translucent and has a shiny texture. Gampi cannot be cultivated and is therefore rare and the most expensive of these three materials.
|MITSUMATA A bush that originated in China. Mitsumata grows to 1.0 - 1.5 meters in height. Records indicate that it was used in papermaking as early as 1614. The fibers are shorter than Kozo's. Mitsumata papers have insect-repelling qualities.|