Echu traditional Japanese paper Echu washi
Developed from Simple Paper used in an Apothecary
Over 100 Different Varieties of Refined Washi
Etchu Washi is Japanese paper made in the area around Asahi Town, Yatsuo Town, and Taira Village in Toyama Prefecture; there are three production areas, each making their own types of washi; they are Gokayama Washi, Yatsuo Washi, and Birudan Washi.
Etchu Washi features an abundant variety of products with slight regional variations but all are known for their sturdiness and quality, and across the region are much appreciated for use in daily goods. The principal uses of Gokayama Washi are shoji sliding door papers, painting and printmaking papers, as well as papers for repairing cultural properties. Yatsuo Washi is known for its processed papers, rather than for painting, such as patterned papers made through the unique katazome dyeing technique, as well as a range of processed paper goods, while Birudan Washi is famous for its calligraphy and painting papers..
Today craftsmen uphold the traditional techniques and products, but they have also pioneered the development of new paper products. There are several new products, which are much appreciated, such as Yatsuo Washi’s modern patterns using the Katazome dyeing technique, or the checkered and colorful luxury papers of Gokayama Washi.
Although the origin of Etchu Washi is unclear, in the Nara period an ancient manuscript the Zusho-ryoge dating back to 774, mentions Etchu as a paper production area, indicating an earlier manufacturing date. The Engi-Shiki Code, a detailed regulations of the state completed in the mid-Heian period, describes Etchu Washi being offered as a tribute to the Imperial Court.
Production of Yatsuo Washi grew especially from 1688 to 1704 in the Genroku era of the Edo period. The second lord of the Toyama domain, Masatoshi MAEDA, encouraged a herbal and medicinal business to grow in the area, which gave rise to an increasing demand for powder papers, customer rosters and paper carrier type bags.
Gokayama Washi being a favorite of the lords of the Kaga domain also developed in the Edo period. In 1984 in recognition of its traditional production techniques, Etchu Washi was designated as one of the National Traditional Crafts.
General Production Process
- 1. Soaking/refining on snow Dried and preserved white bark is softened and cleaned by soaking in a river or watertank for one to three days. A more seasonal method is yukisarashi (snow refining) in which paper mulberry bark is laid on snow for two weeks or so.
- 2. Boiling and aging An alkaline solution containing caustic soda, soda ash or lime and water is boiled in a large vat with the white bark for about two hours to help dissolve the bark fibers.
- 3. Removal of lye, Washing After boiling and aging, the fibers are left overnight and rinsed several times to remove lye.
- 4. Bleach washing At this stage, any white or shoji papers are bleached by washing with sodium hypochlorite or other bleaching agents.
- 5. Cleaning Fibers are further soaked in water to get rid of any remaining dust and discolored fibers are carefully removed by hand; this is an essential process to produce high quality washi.
- 6. Beating Fibers are beaten manually or by machine and broken down into a sticky mass. Traditionally a pestle or a wooden hammer is used, or if by machine a disintegrator or a beater with a rotating edge are used.
- 7. Papermaking
The softened fibers and neri, a gelatinous substance extracted from the roots of sunset hibiscus are mixed with water in a sukibune a large wooden watertank; the neri helps to keep the fibers separate in the water.
Etchu Washi’s making process is called nagashisuki (papermaking in flowing water), and involves setting a su reed screen inside a keta wooden frame into which the fiber mix is scooped and then agitated to attain an even thickness. After settling the wet paper sheets are laid on a shikizume board to make a shito (paper bed).
- 8. Pressing
Shito are left overnight, and the next day they are pressed from a few hours to a whole day depending on the washi type.
- 9. Drying After pressing, paper sheets are carefully peeled one by one from the shito and each sheet placed on a board to dry. There are several drying methods such as sun-drying or steam-drying by machine.
- 10. Selecting Sheets are inspected for quality and any damaged or uneven sheets removed.
- 11. Pattern dyeing To make patterned papers, the Katazome (pattern dyeing) technique is used. Since the pattern dying enables dyes to seep into the fabric tissue, the beautiful design of the final product can be maintained even if the paper is crinkled.
- 12. Shipping Shoji papers are cut to a range of standard sizes ready for the market.
Where to Buy & More Information
Michi no Eki Taira