Sekishu traditional Japanese paper Sekishu washi
Delicate Japanese paper that combines toughness and flexibility
Its whiteness acquires an exquisite light yellow tint over the years
What is Sekishu traditional Japanese paper ?
Sekishu washi is produced in the western part (Iwami region) of Shimane Prefecture. It is a traditional craft with a long history of around 1300 years. The name Sekishu is found in writings from olden times, the Heian period, and a statement to the effect that in the Nara period, KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro “taught the populace to make Japanese paper” appears in some writings from the Edo period as well.
Sekishu washi is characterized by its exploitation of the nature of the paper mulberry tree, whose bast fibers are, on average, about 10 mm long and mesh together easily. The finished paper retains its strength even when folded or rubbed, and is even stronger than Western papers. The paper that is used is a delicate, but resilient, Japanese paper that exhibits the special qualities of the mitsumata plant (Edgeworthia chrysantha, oriental paper bush) with its bast fibers averaging about 4 mm in length.
Although it is slightly inferior in toughness, the paper is smooth and flexible. Its soft sheen makes it suitable for use in printing and for calligraphy. The fibers in Sekishu ganpi paper is a form of washi made from ganpi fibers, which are about 3 mm in length and of the greatest delicacy, but resistant to insect damage, as well as tolerating humidity well. The finished ganpi paper is glossy and translucent and is used in a large variety of products, including paper for calligraphy, certificates of merit, paper for dyeing, stationery, and so on.
According to Kamisukichohoki, published in 1798 (Kansei 10), KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro, the governor of Iwami from 704~715 (Keiun 1~Wado 8), “taught the populace to make Japanese paper.” From then on, for about 1300 years, Sekishu washi continued to be made in the Iwami district in the western part of Shimane Prefecture. Osaka merchants in the Edo period used Sekishu washi for their account books, and this was the type of washi used for the object that was most important for their products, keeping records of the customers. We are told that even if there was a fire, they would throw the ledger with the customer names into a well to save it from being burned; when it was taken out of the well, the paper was untorn and had not dissolved, so they could start doing business again.
In 1969 (Showa 44), the Sekishuu hanshi produced by the Sekishu Hanshi Gijutsushakai was designated as a national important intangible cultural asset. In 2009 (Heisei 21), in accordance with a Unesco treaty having to do with the protection of intangible cultural heritages, Sekishu hanshi was recorded as an intangible heritage of humanity. Even today, the traditional craft product “Sekishu washi,” including the important intangible cultural asset Sekishu hanshi, is being used as a special type of washi for the restoration of cultural properties, and this culture that has endured for 1300 years is being carried on by young artisans.
General Production Process
- 1. Steaming the raw materials
The materials used for Sekishu washi, a tough Japanese paper, are locally-grown kozo, mitsumata, and the local self-propagating wild ganpi. The wood, reaped at a diagonal angle with a sickle, is aligned, pressed, and cut in approximately 1 meter lengths. Once it has been aligned and cut, it is steamed in a bamboo steamer, which facilitates the peeling of the core material and the skin on the outside.
Holding the raw wood and the epidermis in his hand and between his legs, the craftsman strips the epidermis off in such a way as to create a cylinder. The black bark is tied in bundles and dried naturally in the wind. After it has been sufficiently dried, it is stored.
- 2. Kurokawa-sozori
This is the process of carefully shaving the skin with a knife on a sozoridai, one piece at a time, after the black bark has been soaked in water for about half a day and softened. The part called “amakawa,” found between the outer skin and white inner layer is left in order to bring out the toughness of the kozo.
- 3. Shajuku
This is the process in which the white inner layer that has been stripped off in spring water is carefully shaken to wash away impurities. Water and soda ash amounting to 12% of the amount of water are heated to boiling in a large vat and then the raw material is loosened as it is being added. For about 2 hours it is boiled and steamed while turning it over approximately every 30 minutes so as to prevent uneven places from developing. When the boiling is finished, the next stage is to wash the material carefully in spring water to remove dust and other impurities. For kozo, during the process of akunuki (removing harshness), the dust is removed from each individual strip.
- 4. Dakai (Beating) The raw material is placed on a hard wooden board and its fibers are crushed by painstakingly beating it with sticks/rods made of oak. For Sekishu washi, the beating goes from side to side, left to right and back again, six times, while the material is reversed, top and bottom, six times.
- 5. Kazushi A viscous liquid consisting of water, paper raw material, and tororoaoi is put into a vat and stirred with a stick to break it up and render it uniform. Making Sekishu washi (kamisuki) is done in three basic stages: kazushi, choshi, and sutemizu. Kazushi is the rapid lifting out of the paper material from the vat, and an entire screen of split bamboo is used to form the surface of the paper.
- 6. Choshi
Choshi involves scooping out a deep layer of the paper material and shaking it from front to back to make the fibers intertwine, thus creating a layer of Japanese paper.
- 7. Sutemizu
The thickness of the paper is determined by the number of times that choshi is performed; when it reaches the right thickness, things such as the water and paper material--anything superfluous—is vigorously shaken and thrown out. That stage is called sutemizu.
- 8. Kamitokoutsushi
After straining, the water on top of the paper on the paper bed is drained well and the paper is stacked sheet by sheet, moved, then left as is for one night. The pressure of a compressor is gradually increased to squeeze the water out of the paper bed.
- 9. Drying
This consists of peeling off the sheets of paper that have been compressed and squeezed and then brushing them onto drying boards of gingko wood. The drying boards with the wet paper web stuck to them are dried in the sun; this results in beautiful resilient and pliant Sekishu washi.
- 10. Sorting
After drying, the washi is sorted and any pieces with unevenness, thicknesses, dust, or the like, are carefully removed. Fine sheets of washi that have made it through this selection process are cut to suit their intended uses, and that is the finished product.
Where to Buy & More Information
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