Japanese call it ‘washi’: ‘wa’ means Japanese and ‘shi’ paper. This paper is made from the bark of numerous trees that are native to Japan. It is a traditional, hand-crafted, acid-free paper.
The art of paper making was introduced in Japan in 610 BC by Buddhist monks who wrote so called sutras on this particular type of paper. Towards the end of the 18th century, no less than 100,000 families in Japan made their living working in this cottage industry. Nowadays no more than hundred or so families still produce this beautiful paper. The paper-making process is so time-consuming that Japanese even consider it a virtue to not waste any paper!
Washi is made from the bark of Kozo (Familiy of the Mulberry tree), Mitsumata and Gampi shrubs. Branches are harvested in lengths of one metre to allow regenerative growth of the shrubs. They are boiled in a kettle of water so that the bark can be easily removed. The bark is cut off, dried and soaked in cold, streaming water for a couple of days. It is then boiled once more to soften the fibre structure.
The fibre is next beaten by hand, using small hammers and mixed to a pulp with water. Torai or Neri glue made from Hibiscus is added to the pulp which is carefully spread out over a screen, the so-called Sugeta. This is made from woven bamboo and horse hair. Once the desired thickness is achieved, excess water is pressed out. The screens are left to dry in the sun.
Washi fibres are both soft and extremely strong. The paper is well-suited for the application of ink or colour pigments. For centuries already, Washi paper has been used for printing colourful designs using block print techniques. In fact, it’s texture and characteristics make this paper suitable for an endless number of decorative applications.