Making Washi in Japan

I recently spent a couple of days in Echizen, Japan, which is a village dedicated to the fine art of hand-made paper. I knew it was going to be tough making a large sheet of kozo paper – I have only made small sheets in my own studio – and my gruff non-English speaking sensei definitely put this gaijin through the paces.

Making kozo washi (hand-made Japanese paper) in the paper-making village of Echizan

Making kozo washi (hand-made Japanese paper) in the paper-making village of Echizan

Anxious to show that I wasn’t a lazy Westerner I worked hard to prove myself in the short time available. I was grateful for my recent weight training as I raked a large wooden frame back and forth through the pup-laden vat. Next was the art of using a large wooden stick to “slice” through the pulp to further separate the fibers.

Me and my sensei (teacher).  He was a bit harsh at first, but eventually mellowed.

Me and my sensei (teacher). He was a bit harsh at first, but eventually mellowed.

Without language to help my understanding of the process my best guide was to replicate the sound that this stick made as it struck the bottom of the vat. My first few attempts resulted in pulp-laden water spraying over me and other objects in the path. I knew it was going to be difficult to form a sheet this large, and it was. I made about 50 attempts before I produced anything that was worth saving.

I'm extracting air from the bubbles that formed on the wet washi.

I’m extracting air from the bubbles that formed on the wet washi.

I’m grateful to Rina Aoki for a wonderful time touring several different types of washi studios – including that of National Living Treasure Ichibei Iwano IX.  I have a more profound appreciation of washi and the people that make it.

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~ by rjmang on October 5, 2013.

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