About Washi Paper

A ‘UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage’.

Japanese washi paper and paper making is listed as ‘UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage’,

Three regions of Japanese Washi Paper are registered as ‘UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage’

  • Sekishu-banshi – (Hamada-shi, Shimane Prefecture) – Ishizu Paper Sheet Technical Association · Ishiwa Washi Cooperative Association
  • Honmino-Washi – (Mino City, Gifu Prefecture) – Mino City Board of Education from HP
  • Hosoka Washi – (Ogawa Town, Saitama Prefecture, Higashi Chichi village) – Saitama Traditional Craft Center Homepage

Features of Handmade Japanese Paper

Manufacturing Process
Instead of mass production by machine, there are slight differences in manufacturing processes depending on producer and production area, each adding their own unique personality to the handmade paper.
Because the length of the raw material fibers is long, it is a strong, durable paper.
High Preservation
Because the raw material is natural fiber and no chemicals or additives are used to weaken the paper, it is less damaged and becomes highly preserved paper.

As a disadvantage, the cost of raw materials is high, approximately about 3 times higher than commercial paper. It is not mass produced and each piece is handmade, therefore making labor costs high.

Peeled off bark which will become Washi paper.

Preparing to make Washi from a mixture of water, neri and kozo.

History of Washi Paper

Invention in China (BC)
It was written in 610 and “Nihon Shoki” (translated as The Chronicles of Japan, and the second-oldest book of classical Japanese history) that the way to make paper using Washi was introduced to Japan.
Heian Period
(794 AD – 1185)
Waka (poetry in classical Japanese literature), Kanbun (a method of annotating classical Chinese to be read in Japanese), other writing and picture scrolls became popular among aristocrats, and special paper was requested.
Kamakura Period
(1185 – 1333)
Entering the Kamakura period, the samurai became the military nobility and began to increase their power. During their reign woodcut prints were produced actively, and Washi paper was prominently used.
Muromachi Period
(1336 – 1573)
In the architectural style typified by Ginkakuji in Kyoto, a craftsman style is born. In addition to sliding doors paper scrolls, paper was used for screen folding and screening. Sanshui paintings and Buddhist paintings became more popular and ink paintings such as those on hanging scrolls, folding screens and scrolls became less popular.
Azuchi–Momoyama Period
(1568 – 1600)
A grand and splendid culture blossoms featuring brilliant culture including Nanban folding screens (Japanese art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that are considered masterpieces).

The culture of the tea ceremony that cherishes simple and quiet “Wabi” is born. Wabi is the ancient philosophy rooted in Buddhism, particularly in tea ceremonies, as a ritual of purity and simplicity. This practice embodied elegance, quiet taste, refined beauty as well as the belief that objects gain value through use and age. Bowls that were irregularly shaped, unevenly glazed, or possessed cracks or flaws were prized for the deliberate imperfections.

Pictures and picture scrolls underwent various developments with changes in relation to social structure and lifestyle, and the prosperity of such arts had a great influence on the improvement of papermaking technology as well.
Trade with overseas was also carried out in earnest, and Japanese Washi paper was exported overseas by vermilion ship with a red seal.

Edo Period
(1603 – 1868)
Papermaking began to prosper and the production of paper became more active, and Washi paper penetrated into the lives of commoners, further blossoming Edo culture. In the Edo period when politics became stable and towns and culture prospered, Washi paper spread to every corner of life.
Children began to attend Terakoya (private educational institutions that taught writing and reading to the children of Japanese commoners) and paper was used for toys such as dolls, balloons, kites and origami paper.The rise of Edo culture produced many books and Ukiyo-e prints developed by paper processing technology. Paper enriched the lives of people and continued to play an active part in everyday life. It was strong against rain, and was used not only for umbrellas and a way to shade against the sun, but also outside of the house, such as amulets of temples and shrines (futoshi) and demand increased in seasonal occasions. In addition to Tanabata and festival decorations, Washi paper combining strength and beauty expanded its use, such as for fans and lanterns.
Meiji Period
(1868 – 1912)
Paper factories were established in the Meiji period, but at the beginning they were not highly useful and primarily produced Washi paper which were used for textbooks.

The number of paper stock gradually increased to reach 68,562 in 1882, but from that time, production of paper began to plateau and gradually the prosperity of Washi paper began to decrease.

Washi paper in this era is divided into two types – paper for screening and umbrellas which are used for daily life of ordinary people and was exported vigorously, and paper that was produced for industrial use such as typewriter paper and mimeograph paper (a duplicating machine which produces copies from a stencil, now replaced by the photocopier).

Current time
Washi became deprived of the position as a practical item by Western paper, and in modern days most of it is produced as a traditional craft. Elegant washi is used not only in the field of art but also for its durability and toughness in restoring cultural properties. It is also used for globally friendly products, attracting attention not only from Japan but from all over the world.