Uchiyama Japanese paper

Uchiyama Japanese paper Uchiyama gami

100 % mulberry paper of excellent quality
Supple, smooth, translucent products


What is Uchiyama Japanese paper ?

Uchiyama Gami is a Japanese paper made in the Oku-shinano region of Nagano Prefecture. The papermaking techniques of Uchiyama Gami were developed to provide a supplementary income for the region in the snowy winter season. Uchiyama Gami is characterized by its base raw material which is 100 % paper mulberry; this gives the handmade paper excellent strength, breathability and translucency, with good moisture retention.
Overnight snowfall in the Oku-shinano region can be more than one meter, so the paper mulberry bark is best harvested no later than the end of November. In winter, tree bark fibers are bleached by spreading them on top of the snow. This method called yukisarashi (snow refining), makes use of the naturally produced ozone released by the melting snow; this man-made chemical-free process gives the final product a soft texture and sleek strength, capable of withstanding cold, damp weather. Since it is bleached in nature, Uchiyama Gami will only turn a little brown in direct sunlight and can be preserved for a long time. This durability makes it a popular choice for government family registers, and among other public agencies. It also has a very good reputation as shoji sliding door paper with high translucency, making it also suitable for interior crafts such as light shades. In addition, it is widely used as calligraphy paper.


Uchiyama Japanese paper - History Photo:Shinshu・Nagano Prefecture Tourism Association

Uchiyama Gami is a handmade washi and it is presumed it originated in Uchiyama Village, Takai Country of the former Shinano Province.
It is said that Kichiemon HAGIWARA learned papermaking techniques in the former Mino Province in the early Edo period, and upon returning to his home in Uchiyama Village began a papermaking business. At that time, paper mulberry, the single raw material of Uchiyama Gami, grew naturally in the local mountains and being easy to collect helped spread papermaking production throughout the region. Land tax accounts of Takai and Minochi countries of the former Shinano Province in the mid-Edo period indicate that the papermaking industry in Uchiyama Village was subject to taxation. Since Oku-shinano is a snowy area, production of Uchiyama Gami gradually took root in the region as a subsidiary industry for winter. Uchiyama Gami fetched a high price in the neighboring county of Echigo, and was a valuable source of cash income. During the Meiji period, new techniques and mechanization improved the production method. At its peak, there were 1,354 raw material suppliers, 1,130 makers, and 175 distributors. Later, the industry declined due to the spread of mass produced Western-style paper. Gradually because of its hand-made nature the number of producers dropped and today only a few makers are left upholding the traditional papermaking techniques.

General Production Process

Uchiyama Japanese paper - General Production Process Photo:Shinshu・Nagano Prefecture Tourism Association

  1. 1. Cultivating paper mulberry Paper mulberry is a member of the mulberry family, and was often found growing near farms. In comparison with other plants used for Japanese papermaking, paper mulberry features long and strong fibers. The plant is cut from the root during November and December, when it sheds its leaves.
  2. 2. Peeling bark, drying black bark The harvested paper mulberries are cut into 80 centimeters to 1 meter lengths, bundled and steamed in a caldron to soften and make it easier to remove the bark. After the black bark is peeled off it is hung in bundles to dry.
  3. 3. Freezing and scraping bark The bark is once more soaked and then laid on the snow overnight and left to freeze, this is repeated about three times to make the bark easier to peel; an okakai tool is used to scrape the bark. This process is called kawakaki (scraping bark).
  4. 4. Bleaching on snow The bark is laid out in a snowfield and sprinkled with new-fallen snow and left to bleach for a week; the bark is whitened by ozone naturally released by the melting snow. It is left to dry in the sun.
  5. 5. Boiling and aging The whitened bark fibers are softened by boiling in a cauldron with alkaline chemicals such as caustic soda or carbonate of soda. Formerly, craftsmen used another alkaline chemical, soda ash, which causes less damage to the fibers. After boiling, the alkaline ingredients are washed away.
  6. 6. Bleaching Fibers are now bleached with sodium hypochlorite or other bleaching powders, and any remaining dust or dirt caught in the fibers washed out. This additional bleaching is a relatively new process added to meet the market demand for completely white paper.
  7. 7. Disintegrating The whitened bark is thrown into a disintegrator and beaten for about one hour with caustic starch until the fiber tissues are sufficiently loose. This beating is the last process of the raw material preparation.
  8. 8. Scrunching, Shaking The bark fibers are now scrunched into rounds weighing about 1kilogram and placed in a sukibune watertank. For every four rounds of fiber 600 milliliters water is added along with 15 liters of mucus made from the roots of sunset hibiscus. This process is known as korobu, and it is important to diffuse the fibers evenly in the liquid to make a paper stock.
  9. 9. Papermaking The paper stock is scooped onto a flat suketa where by gently and quickly shaking both lengthways and widthways to shake off excessive water, the paper sheet takes shape. Although a simple process, it takes years of practice and great skill to make every sheet the same thickness and quality. The sheets are piled up and pressed and left to dry.
  10. 10. Cutting, Pasting Sheets are cut to size; 48 sheets of basic size paper are pasted together to make a large sheet for a shoji sliding door. Papers are graded and sorted according to use and packaged ready for sale.

Where to Buy & More Information

Iiyama Dento Sangyo Kaikan

See more Traditional Japanese paper

See items made in Nagano