Inshu traditional Japanese paper Inshu washi
1300 years of tradition
the finest, softest and most durable texture
What is Inshu traditional Japanese paper ?
Inshu Washi is a handmade Japanese paper made in the former Inaba Province, located in the eastern part of today’s Tottori Prefecture. The most prevalent type is a good textured drawing paper ideal for calligraphy and ink painting, and with 60 to 70% of the domestic market share is the most popular nationwide.
Paper mulberry, paperbush and Diplomorpha sikokiana are the quintessential raw materials of Japanese papermaking, and Inaba Province is blessed with an abundance of forests and beautiful limpid streams; all essential for making premium papers. Inshu Washi making full use of the characteristics of natural fibers is known for its warm and flexible texture, and since it is merely oxidized and with a natural durability Inshu Washi is a versatile paper. It is commonly said that being so smooth and soft of texture brushes write twice as fast as on other Japanese papers, and also results in the absorption of less ink. Its high quality is confirmed in an old adage: a brush fortunate enough to only write upon Inshu will never be worn.
The papermaking process itelf is all by hand using copious flowing water, and the splashing sound of pulling up wet pulp from a watertank is such a traditional winter feature, the Environment Agency has designated it as one of 100 Selections of Soundscape in Japan.
In response to changing consumer demands new products, such as three‐dimensional shaped interior crafts or special papers for PC printing, have been introduced, but still utilizing the time-honored traditional techniques.
Inshu Washi has a long tradition. A classic example, preserved in the Shosoin Repository in Nara, and the oldest example of Japanese paper, is the Shosoin Monjo Seishu, a major series of famous ancient manuscripts dating back to the early 8th century in the Nara period, and including ancient seals of Inaba Province. The Engi-Shiki Code, which was completed in 927, records Inaba Province as offering paper to the Imperial Court in those days.
In the Edo period, a manuscript drawn up by the feudal lord Kamei states that paper mulberry and Diplomorpha sikokiana, or pulpwoods for making Inshu Washi, are “trees prohibited to be cut as one likes.” Inshu Washi was widely used both as tributes to the Tottori domain and for general use in society. In the Meiji period, bleaching techniques and more efficient manufacturing methods were introduced, and production kept increasing until the end of the Taisho period.
In the Showa era, the industry experienced a downturn in demand affected by the spread of Western-style paper made from wood pulp. After the Second World War, craftsmen focused on utilizing traditional techniques for new product development such as papers for calligraphy, and decorated or dyed papers. Notably, papers for ink painting achieved the largest market share in Japan and consequently Inshu Washi has increased its brand name recognition.
General Production Process
- 1. Raw materials
Paperbush, paper mulberry and Diplomorpha sikokiana are the major raw materials of Inshu Washi. After cutting, materials are selected depending on the final product, and soaked in water for some time. Impurities like sand and dust are washed out and the outer black bark is gently stripped off with a knife.
- 2. Boiling
The pulpwood bark contains plenty of cellulose, as well as other substances and boiling is to release the long fibers required for papermaking. The bark is soaked again to soften. A steel vat is filled with water, and before boiling, plant matter such as bamboo, straw or hemp, as well as chemicals like caustic soda or soda ash to alkalize the brew are mixed in. The boiling time, generally 2 to 3 hours for paper mulberry, varies according to the kind of raw materials and the alkalinity levels. At this time the brew releases a distinctive sweet aroma.
- 3. Washing and bleaching
Boiling allows for a stronger pectin and lignin solution needed to connect bark fibers. More washing leaves only fibers, but still the fibers are left in a limpid stream to get rid of any small dust particles or smudges, and finally any remaining impurities are picked out carefully by hand.
- 4. Beating
Beating further breaks down the fiber tissues which were once hard and joined together. This thorough softening encourages the pulpwood fibers to more easily entwine with each other during papermaking, which will affect the strength and durability of the final product. Fibers subject to a low level of beating will make paper with a rough texture and a low density. Nowadays, beating is done by hand or a machine. At this stage in the process dyes or tints maybe added.
- 5. Papermaking
Although all the earlier preparation is crucial to Inshu Washi paper making, at the processes’ heart are found the sukibune watertank, and a sieve-like tool, the sugeta. Once again impurities are removed from the beaten pulp and the right degree of stickiness is achieved by adding a gelatinous mucus made from the roots of sunset hibiscus.
The sukibune is filled with water, the pulp and mix added and stirred. The sugeta sieve is used to scoop up a wash of fibers and gently agitated to help them entwine and settle into a uniform thickness. This process is called sukinagashi and Inshu Washi is characterized by the endless repeating of these simple but highly skilled movements to gather the right size piles of fibers to ensure the desired thickness and texture.
- 6. Dehydration
The wet paper is left to dry, so as not to lose their shape, and several hundred sheets are piled up and a very gradual pressure applied.
- 7. Drying
After compression, each sheet is carefully peel off, and stuck upon a board using a wide brush to remove any wrinkles, and left to dry in the sun or a drying room.
- 8. Cutting Each sheet is checked for holes and flaws and then cut to standard sizes according to purpose, such as drawing or writing; this is often done by machine but the traditional hand cutting method, tedachi involves the simplest set of tools; a knife, a cutting board, a ruler and a good hand and eye.
Where to Buy & More Information
Aoya Washi Kobo
ClosedMondays (open if Monday is holiday and closed the next day), December 29 - 31
Business Hours9am to 5pm
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