Echizen traditional Japanese paper Echizen washi
Japanese History and Tradition
First Class Quality and Exceptional Artistry
Echizen Washi is a Japanese paper made in the basin of the Okafuto River of the Echizen region, Fukui Prefecture. Washi is made mostly from the inner bark fibers of plants such as paper mulberry, paperbush and Diplomorpha sikokiana. Echizen Washi features elegant and inspiring natural colors and is known for its high quality, being both very resistant to insect damage and capable of being stored for a long time
Since paper mulberry has thick long fibers, it is processed into sturdy papers which are suitable for calligraphy, dolls and other craft products. Washi made from paperbush has a smooth and slightly glossy texture, therefore it is generally used for fusuma sliding doors or printing paper. Since it is very difficult to grow Diplomorpha sikokiana, people have collected the plant in the wild from olden times. Washi made from paper mulberry features fine wrinkles called shibo, which is perfect for producing certificates of merit or the paper used during a tea ceremony. Other than those types mentioned above, there are many varieties of Echizen Washi, such as the ceremonial paper used among court nobles, samurai families and shrines, as well as for gift wrapping and certificates.
The history of Echizen Washi making presumably began no later than the 4th or 5th century when paper was first imported to Japan. The Shosoin Repository in Nara has the oldest preserved manuscript which includes mention of Echizen Washi.
The Echizen region has inherited the Kami Festival, one of the intangible folklore cultural assets of Fukui Prefecture, in which for centuries people have enshrined the paper god of the Ootaki shrine and the Okamoto shrine. Initially, Echizen Washi had been made for sutra copying, and later, as court nobles and samurai families began to use more paper, production developed under the protection of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the local lords. High quality products like Echizen ceremonial paper became famous, and along with the development of papermaking techniques production increased. This industrial success resulted in the creation of the Fukui local paper currency resembling present currency notes. In the Meiji period, paper for the national currency issued by the Grand Council of State was made in the region, and the Paper Money Office of the National Printing Bureau was also established here.
Echizen Washi steeped in the national cultural traditions dating back to the earliest times also has a strong connection with the practical methods used to produce paper currency in Japan. Today, there are a wide variety of products; ranging from small business cards and postcards for everyday use to traditional and prestigious lines like Echizen ceremonial paper.
General Production Process
- 1. Boiling
The bark of the raw materials such as paper mulberry, paperbush and Diplomorpha sikokiana is first weighed into batches which are soaked for about 10 hours to soften and make the boiling process easier to dissolve impurities such as fat or tannin in the bark. A brew of water, caustic soda and soda ash is boiled and the bark added; according to the kind and combination of raw materials and the usage of the final product the quantity of soda ash and the boiling time will vary.
- 2. Cleaning and Washing The bark is washed in water to get rid of impurities dissolved in the boiling process and any dust present in the raw materials. The more perfect the level of washing and cleaning, the better the quality of finished paper. Careful handwork is required to remove any damaged raw materials caused by cutting.
- 3. Beating
The bonded cellulose aggregates are beaten to break down and soften the fiber tissues. Sufficient beating makes the fibers sticky, and helps the final product to be strong and resistant to scratching or pulling. Traditionally beating was done by hand with a stick and a board, but nowadays usually a machine is used. It is important to choose the most efficient beating method taking into account the characteristics of each raw material.
- 4. Bleaching
The natural color of the raw material is usually preserved to the end, but in some cases, according to the type of the final product, the sheets may be bleached or colored.
- 5. Sukibune (watertank for papermaking) Neri, or mucus made from the roots of the panicle hydrangea or sunset hibiscus is poured into a sukibune watertank; the best neri is carefully selected and sometimes according to the raw materials a blend of several different neri is used.
- 6. Papermaking The papermaking process involves scooping the paper stock from the water-filled sukibune on to a sugeta mesh tool. There are several major techniques such as nagashizuki (papermaking in flowing water), tamezuki (papermaking in stored water), and suminagashi (marbling with sumi); each technique is best suited for different types of paper. Only highly skilled artisans with years of practice are able to produce papers with a uniform thickness. Papers are piled in the same direction and yarn is laid between each sheet.
- 7. Pressing Slow pressure is applied to remove water and great care taken to maintain the sheet shape. Today, the most popular machine press for this process can squeeze the stacked papers from both above and below.
- 8. Hegiwake (scraping and parting) After pressing, slipped yarns are removed and each paper carefully peeled off one by one. Although traditionally sheets were sun-dried, the present method involves drying in a muro room. Each wet sheet is stuck on a board with a wide brush, and left to dry. Careful handling of the drying board is required, since it directly affects the quality of the finished paper texture. An important method is to stretch each paper on a frame to steam and then press dry. Artistic handicraft papers, are laid on steel sheets while wooden boards are used for Japanese vellums.
- 9. Polishing The front and back of the dried paper is carefully checked to select only papers without dust or damage. Paper sheets are coated with a dosa size and rolled to polish, and then usually machine cut to standard sizes; traditionally, papers were cut by hand. Finally, papers are packaged in wrappings suitable for such high quality Echizen Washi and distributed.
Where to Buy & More Information
Echizen Washi no Sato
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