Awa traditional Japanese paper Awa washi
A 1300 year-old tradition
of handmade Japanese paper
What is Awa traditional Japanese paper ?
Awa Washi is Japanese paper made in Tokushima Prefecture in Yoshinogawa City, Naka-gun, Naka-cho and Miyoshi City, Ikeda-cho. It is produced using the traditional Washi papermaking methods of nagashisuki (papermaking in flowing water), and tamesuki (papermaking using stored water).
The special feature of Awa Washi is the natural color and texture (kinari) in the handmade feel of the paper. As well as this, even though it is thin, the quality of the paper is strong and it resists water and is difficult to tear. The raw materials for traditional Japanese paper are the bast fibers (shinpiseni) of paper mulberry, diplomorpha sikokiana and, paperbush but hemp, bamboo and mulberry can also be used. Awa Washi is used in a wide range of applications with many works made from mixing it with hemp or wood; it is used in watermark techniques and in items that use dyes made from plants, such as the traditional industry in Tokushima of indigo dyeing.
The texture of traditional Japanese paper combined with modern technology has led to the popular development of new techniques incorporating Washi, such as Washi for ink-jet printers, interior goods made with wire and Washi, and water-resistant paper.
It is not clearly defined when the production of Awa Washi began but there are records of “the delivery of 70 sheaves of hemp paper and 100 sheaves of high quality hemp paper” for the Engi-Shiki set of Japanese regulations in the Daido years (years 806-810). Also, from the records showing that Mr. Inbe Awa cultivated hemp and paper mulberry and was producing paper, it is believed that the production of Japanese Washi paper had already begun in the Nara period.
Also, in 1585 (13th year of Taisho) Hachisuka Iemasu arrived in the region and became the first Lord of Tokushima and he began to encourage the protection of the paper mulberry. In 1636 (13th year of Kanei) the second feudal lord, Yoshishige, began to focus the policy of the clan on encouraging farmers to produce Japanese paper as a sideline. In addition, the national monopoly system defining local specialties in the Kyoho years of 1716-1736 was introduced and the Tokushima paper production industry became more and more popular and well-known throughout the country.
Along with the trend towards Westernization from the beginning of the Meiji period, a gradual decline in Awa Japanese paper started to happen. However, one papermaking company continued to protect the tradition of Awa Washi and in 1976 (Showa 51st year) it was designated as a traditional handicraft.
General Production Process
- 1. Boiling and Aging
The raw material from the paper mulberry is harvested in November and December. The bast outer bark (Jinpi) has a three-layer structure consisting of, from the outside inwards, black bark, blue bark and white bark, so the bark is first stripped and then dried in the state of either black bark and white bark.
After soaking the dried paper mulberry (kozo) for one day in running water, the black bark and impurities remaining in the fibers are washed away. Next, the materials are boiled in alkaline solutions such as calcium hydroxide, sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide. Then the fibers are boiled for about 2 hours turning them over to make sure that they are boiled through evenly until the fibers can be torn off with the finger.
- 2. Cleaning
After boiling and aging has finished, it is left overnight just as it is and after steaming, the lye is removed by soaking in running water and anything other than the fiber that is soluble in the alkaline solution is removed. Then, in a basket immersed in water, unwanted substances are carefully taken off the fibers and, in addition, irregularities or discolored parts are removed.
- 3. Beating
After cleaning is finished the fibers are in a bundle and “beating” is the process whereby each strand of fiber is separated. On a stone slab or hardwood board the fibers are thoroughly beaten. At present this work is no longer done by hand but nearly always carried out by using a power mortar.
- 4. Papermaking
Once the fibers have been properly prepared, the next process of “papermaking” can begin.
The traditional method of making Washi paper, “nagashisuki”, consists of the three processes of “kakenagashi”, “choshi” and “sutemizu”.
Kakenagashi” is the work of pouring and spreading the fibers out on the whole suketa (wooden framed sieve). In order to spread the fibers out thinly and evenly over the whole suketa, the suketa should be quickly filled to a shallow level with the liquid fiber material.
Choshi is the work of creating layers in the Washi paper of intertwined fibers. The materials are poured in to a deeper level than for the kakenagashi stage, the suketa is moved to intertwine the fibers and the choshi process is repeated until the required thickness is achieved. Once the required thickness is reached the water in the suketa and the materials that are no longer required are discarded in the sutemizu process. When the papermaking process is complete, the liquid paper is removed from the suketa whilst being careful not to let air bubbles enter and laid on boards for the paper, shitoita. The bunch of paper made by overlaying each sheet of moist paper that has been made is called a “shito” (paper bed).
- 5. Pressing
The shito is left as it is overnight and after the moisture is removed naturally, it is put between boards and dehydrated by a press.
- 6. Drying
After pressing has finished, each piece of paper is pasted on a drying board one by one and dried by leaving the drying board in the sun or by using steam in a drying machine.
When the drying is complete, a stage of processing the paper takes place by applying various substances such as “dosa”, “konjac” or “persimmon”. Dosa made from alum and hide glue prevents the color from running, konjac waterproofs and strengthens the paper and persimmon is used as a preservative, insect repellant or deodorant. Also, if the paper has been dyed with indigo or other dyes or if crepe-like paper is being made, the paper is processed at this stage.
Where to Buy & More Information
Tokushima Bussan Kanko Koryu Plaza"Arudeyo Tokushima"
ClosedMondays (museum open on Monday it is a holiday but closed the next day)
Business Hours9am to 5pm
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