Japanese Paper in Kyoto

April 13, 2010

by Chiharu Suzuki; Yuka Segawa

Japanese Paper

・History of Washi

Washi is the name of Japanese paper made by traditional methods.
The history of washi is old; it has been made in Japan for 1300 years. In Kyoto a group of soldiers who were defeated in the war of Genpei (源平) hid themselves and lived in Kurodani 800 years ago. They began to make paper from the inner bark mulberries. In the Edo era (1603~1867), the culture of washi spread. Kurodani became well-known as a paper-making village. In the Showa era (1926~1989), washi was used for fusuma (sliding doors) and shoji (paper doors) in Katsura Detached Palace.

・Characteristics of Washi

Washi is more expensive than ordinary papers. But washi is thin and strong.

・Raw Materials of Washi

Inner bark of the paper mulberry
A mitsumata (paper bush)
The bark of a clove-like bush
Abelmoschus manihot

・How to Make Washi

① Remove the outside bark.
Steam inner bark of mulberries to remove the black bark (outside) and then keep the white inner bark. You clean away the black bark and use just the white inner bark.
② Boil.
Put the white inner bark in a kettle and add calcinated soda and boil it. The advantageous effects of boiling are to remove impurities and to unravel fibers. You wash it and clean away impurities.
③ Beat.
Beat the fibers with a stick on a flat stone or a plank to unravel them. These fibers look like cotton.

④ Make Washi
Add fibers and neri (a sludgy liquid made from Abelmoschus manihot) in a water tank and mix. This liquid contains the raw materials to make washi. You skim the liquid with a mold and shake it. In an alternating succession of these methods, the fibers intertwine and form layers of paper. Thickness of washi depends on the number of times you scoop up the mixture and shake the water away.
⑤ Dry
Layers of papers pile up on boards. Place a heavy stone on them to get all the water out. Papers that have finished dehydrating are squeezed and put on a board and set outside to dry in the sun.

・Kurodani Washi Kaikan (washi=Japanese paper, kaikan=hall)

You can learn the history of washi, buy washi or watch traditional papermaking here.
★Papermaking Experience
You can make original postcards at Kurodani Washi Kaikan. You get 8 postcards for only 1000 yen. You need to make reservation a week ahead.

Address: 3 Higashitani, Kurotani-chou, Ayabe-city, Kyoto
Tel: 0773-44-0213
Open: 8:30 a.m.~ 5:00 p.m.
Closed: first, third and fifth Saturday afternoon/ second and fourth Sunday
Admission: free
Access: Ayabe Station JR line. From this station, you take a taxi about 20 minutes.

・Morita Washi

This is a famous Japanese paper store. You can see many different kinds of washi from throughout Japan here. There are small articles made of washi, postcards, stationary and so on made of washi. You can buy them.

Address: Bukko-ji-agaru, Higashi-no-toin-dori, Shimogyo-ku
Tel: 075-341-1419
Open: weekday 9:30 a.m.~ 5:30 p.m.
Saturday 9:30 a.m.~ 4:30 p.m.
Closed: Sundays, holidays
Access: Nearest station is Karasuma Station Hankyu-line. Go out #19 exit. One minute walk from #19 exit.

・Kurodani Washi’s message.

Advances in Japanese paper-making use mechanization or chemicals for improving the strength of the paper. But, Kurodani washi supports and continues tradition, by making washi the traditional way. To continue tradition is important for them. So, they want you to know the traditional way of making paper.

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