Mino traditional Japanese paper Mino washi
Traditional superior techniques of papermaking
show the harmony of beauty and utility
What is Mino traditional Japanese paper ?
Mino Washi is a type of Japanese paper made in Gifu Prefecture. Mino is a region of abundant nature and is blessed with the paper mulberry, a tree used to make Japanese paper. Ancient manuscripts in the Shosoin Repository in Nara indicate the history of papermaking as beginning in the Nara period, and Mino Washi was known for its balance of thinness, strength and beauty. Refined and highly-skilled artisan techniques bring out the very best from the raw materials and in the Edo period, it was known as being the finest paper and a favorite of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In Gifu Prefecture, the Terao region in Seki City is especially famous for papermaking; the quality of paper is largely affected by water quality, so the paper texture differs slightly between production regions. Alongside Terao, other famous areas for high quality Mino Washi are Iwasa, Taniguchi and Makidani. Following on the success of Mino Washi, several handicrafts such as Gifu paper lanterns and umbrellas came to be manufactured in the prefecture.
Mino Washi making presumably began in the Nara period, over 1300 years ago, and it became popular nationwide after the Muromachi period. The Toki Family, provincial military governors of Mino, took many measures to stimulate the local economy; one was to protect the silk-reeling industry, and another to hold the Rokusaiichi, a regular paper market. In response the paper industry grew steadily, and since the Toki Family were versed in culture and art, several of their associates such as court nobles and priests with an eye for quality also took up using Mino Washi. Scholars believe this significantly contributed to Mino Washi becoming popular throughout the nation.
In the Edo period, Mino became an official papermaking region under the national monopoly system defining local specialties. As a result, the Mino papers for the ubiquitous shoji sliding doors established a brand value nationwide. Before the monopoly system, Mino Washi was well-known as a high quality paper, but since then, it became popular among town dwellers and production rapidly expanded, leading to consumers easily associating Mino with shoji paper. With the abolition of the system in around the Meiji Restoration, demand for paper increased even more. In wartime, Mino Washi was used not only for daily goods, but also for military items like wadding paper for explosives. After the war, with the importing of petro-chemicals, opportunities for ordinary people to use Mino Washi naturally declined. However, in 1985, Mino Washi was designated as one of the Traditional Crafts by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Craftsmen uphold the traditional handwork skills and still to the present day produce high-quality Mino Washi.
General Production Process
- 1. Preparation of raw materials
Paper mulberry, a deciduous tree shrub belonging to the mulberry family, features long fibers and is the most commonly used fiber in making Japanese paper. Its paper is used in a variety of ways such as ceremonial, artistic, as in calligraphy and practical, as in shoji screens. Other trees used for Washi, both belonging to the daphne family, are paper bush, generally used to make printing paper with a slick and slightly glossy texture; and Diplomorpha sikokiana for paper with a glossy texture.
Firstly trees are cut at the base, leaving enough stock for them to regrow; the wood is then stripped of the outer bark, and left in piles to dry.
- 2. Bleaching in river water
The dried bark piles are left in a river or tank for 5 days or so to soften and remove impurities.
- 3. Boiling and aging
To help loosen the long fibers, the softened bark is boiled for 1 to 2 hours in an alkaline solution, usually made of lime, or soda ash; in earlier times rice hulls or paddy straw were used.
- 4. Cleaning
In this stage, hunched-over craftsmen spend hours removing knots and dirt from the decocted fibers; being done by hand the entire cleaning work takes a considerable time. Since the more perfectly this process is carried out directly affects the quality of the finished paper, such prolonged cleaning makes an enormous difference in quality, as is easily seen when comparing Mino Washi with other Japanese papers.
- 5. Beating
Cleaned fibers are beaten on a board with a wooden hammer or pestle, and to further thin the fibers, a rounded bundle is beaten for about 10 minutes. Increasingly machines are used for this process, and fewer craftsmen remain true to this manual tradition.
- 6. Papermaking
Thinned fibers are thrown into a sukibune water tank resembling a bathtub, water is added and a gelatinous mix made from the roots of sunset hibiscus stirred in with a bar. When the right degree of stickiness has been achieved, the pulp is scooped out onto a sukote wooden screen and gently agitated to prevent fibers from becoming tangled. This process makes the sheet of Mino Washi thinner, finer and stronger.
- 7. Drying
The pulp paper contains plenty of water, so must be pulled up carefully with a stone or jack. The scooped paper is allowed to partially dry until some 60% has evaporated; the paper sheets now containing the remaining 40% of water are carefully laid on a board, and left to sun-dry.
- 8. Finishing
After drying, each sheet is checked by an experienced artisan’s eye to thoroughly maintain the highest standards. Surprisingly, only 4% by weight of the original pulpwood finds its way into the finished product of Mino Washi. To make such gossamer light and durable paper requires the most careful and stringent work from start to finish.
Where to Buy & More Information
Mino-Washi No Sato Kaikan
ClosedTuesdays (open on Tuesday if it is a holiday and closed on Wednesday), closed the day after a public holiday except for Saturday and Sunday, around the New Year
Business Hours9am to 5pm
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