Tosa traditional Japanese paper Photo:Kochi Prefecture

Tosa traditional Japanese paper Tosa washi

A brilliant world with a history of over 1000 years
The combination of nature and craftsmanship


What is Tosa traditional Japanese paper ?

Tosa Washi is a kind of Japanese paper made in Tosa City and around Ino-cho in Kochi Prefecture.
In the past, it was used as a receptacle for wallets or medicine or as a paper lantern. Now it has a wide range of uses, such as for paper collages on fusuma or packaging for confectionary. Furthermore, it is a highly evaluated paper, not only in Japan but also in other countries, for its role in Japanese bookmaking and in modifications made to paintings.
The special characteristics of Tosa Washi are that there are many different kinds of paper and that it is thin and strong compared to other Washi paper. The handmade paper, such as Tosa Tengujyoshi, that is only 0.03mm thick, is not seen anywhere else in the world. The thinness and strength is created by the paper mulberry and the beautiful flowing waters of the Niyodogawa that grace the Tosa area. It can actually be said that in this case nature is producing handicrafts.
The production of many types of Japanese paper that originate in various areas in Japan has reduced. However, 300 kinds of Tosa Washi continue to be produced even now.


There are various explanations about the history of Tosa Washi and, although it is not clear, there is a theory that Ki no Tsurayuki was influential in conveying information about the paper from the year 930 (for a period of 8 years). This is because Ki no Tsurayuki was also known as one of the Hyakunin Isshu poets (one hundred classical Japanese poems by one hundred poets) of the Heian period and when he was appointed as the provincial governor of Tosa, he encouraged the paper production industry. At the very least it is known that Tosa Washi is a traditional handicraft that has a history of over 1000 years. And in the Heian period it was used to wrap articles presented to the imperial family and from this time onwards documents remain providing evidence that it was known as a high quality Japanese paper made in the Tosa region. At the time, Japanese paper, sometimes together with shells, was considered precious by the aristocracy as something to be enjoyed during their leisure time.
And with the transformations that each era underwent, the applications for the paper also diversified, and it was used in the kimono of samurai and dolls and in han bills (monetary notes used by the clans), for example. And from the Edo period, it was viewed as an important specialty product that was used for presentations to the shogunate and was also under protection by the Tosa clan. Its traditional role as a specialty product, mainly in the Ino-cho and Tosa city region, has been passed down even to the present day.

General Production Process

Tosa traditional Japanese paper - General Production Process

  1. 1. Boiling The basic raw materials for Tosa Washi are mainly the three plants: paper mulberry, paperbush and Diplomorpha sikokiana. The bark of these 3 plants is used to make the Japanese paper. The method used to make the paper differs slightly according to the quality of the paper or its application but in the case of paper mulberry the basic method is to separate the white part from the outside black part, wash it and bleach it in water. After it has been bleached in cold water for a certain period of time, the materials are boiled. The key-point here to making Japanese paper is not just to boil it in ordinary hot water. In order to make beautiful Japanese paper, alkaline solutions, such as soda ash or lime ash, are added and then it is boiled down for 2-4 hours. By adding alkaline substances in this way, it is possible to cleanly extract only the fibers.
  2. 2. Washing in water and bleaching The next step is to rinse the boiled Japanese paper materials in a limpid stream. The work of thinly spreading and washing the materials repeatedly requires a lot of effort and takes a whole day and night. Then the thoroughly washed and rinsed Japanese paper materials are bleached in the sun or by using bleaching liquid. Even materials that are a little discolored due to steaming gradually become white by exposing them to the sun for 3-4 hours.
  3. 3. Cleaning Parts of the outer bark or dust particles still remain in the washed and boiled-down raw materials. Cleaning is the work of carefully removing such unwanted pieces by hand. Properly removing the impurities can help to produce a strong finish to the Japanese paper making it less likely to have spots or deteriorate with age.
  4. 4. Beating The work of beating the fibers follows removal of the impurities. Rather than spreading the fibers out and beating them, they are rolled into a ball and beaten with a stick. Recently, machines have been increasingly used for this work of beating the fibers. Beating is carried out to make it easier to separate the fibers for papermaking. Fibers that have been firmly beaten, spread out easily just by putting them in water.
  5. 5. Thinning Materials that have been sufficiently softened by beating are placed in a small basket filled with water known as a “thinning basket.” The fibers are thoroughly separated. This work called “thinning” plays an important role in determining the quality of the paper.
  6. 6. Papermaking After the fibers have been properly prepared, finally we reach the papermaking stage. Before carrying out the process of papermaking, firstly a gelatinous substance is added to the fibers to create the conditions for the fibers to make paper. Sunset hibiscus is often used for Tosa Washi. A gelatinous thickener, such as sunset hibiscus, is put into the water while loosening the fibers in the raw material. The correct adjustment of the amount of gelatinous substance is a very important point because if the amount is too small the water is lost and if there is too much it is impossible to drain it when making the paper.
    When the gelatinous substance and the fibers are thoroughly mixed together, the papermaking stage is reached but there are two processes in papermaking, nagashisuki (papermaking in flowing water), and tamesuki (papermaking using stored water). The method that is well-known for handmade Japanese papermaking is the process of nagashisuki. With nagashisuki, the liquid paper is scooped up in a sukibune and gently shaken back and forth to give a uniform paper thickness. As this adjustment must be done in order for uniformity in the paper, this skill is a necessary part of the work.
    Also, the tamesuki technique involves draining the water after scooping up the fibers in the liquid. Since the concentration of the materials changes whilst making the paper, the skill to make the paper the same thickness is necessary.
  7. 7. Dehydration Next, the water is thoroughly drained from the papermaking materials. Weights are placed on top of the sheets of paper made and after they are left overnight, it is common to dehydrate them in a press. In the past a lever was used.
  8. 8. Drying When dehydration is completed, the Japanese paper can be finished after thoroughly drying it. There are 2 methods presently used to dry the paper: drying in the sun and thermal drying. For the sun-drying method that is often used, each piece of paper is carefully spread on a drying board and dried in the sunlight.
  9. 9. Cutting and Packing The size of the Japanese paper that has been finished by the processes up to this point is not yet suitable for usage. For this to be achieved the work of carefully aligning and cutting the paper to the size of one quire (ichijo) is carried out. Then, once trimmed, the Japanese paper must be put into bundles to ship. 1 bundle of Japanese paper is 200 sheets in sets of 10, the 2000 sheets of paper in 1 unit are packaged and the trading unit for packing is known as 1 round (maru).

Where to Buy & More Information

Inocho Paper Museum

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