The Future of Washi (Paper)

Washi paper

Washi cufflinks
Image by craftapalooza via Flickr
Washi paper brooch
Image by craftapalooza via Flickr

Here is the last installment from the article entitled: World Papers and Washi. In the reference section of this blog post, you can find the link to the parent site from which this article was printed in full.

Located below, find other sections under this title posts previously under the blog, Mysterious Japan.

The Discovery of Paper:

The Development of Japanese Washi:

Washi and Its Reputation:

■Old yet new: the future of washi
 Today’s information society has raised a number of issues relating to the future of paper. Despite the growth of new electronic media, the consumption of paper is increasing, which in turn has led to such environmental problems as reductions in forest resources and increased waste. Washi has also had to face the power of economics. Having been replaced in many households by plastic utensils, it retains its unique raison d’ere largely in traditional events and in the hobbies that enrich people’s spiritual lives. Fortunately, there has been renewed interest in the aesthetic values of washi. Paper’s versatility has been highlighted by the increased popularity of the material as a new art medium. Originating in the United States and quickly spreading to the rest of the world, this type of art regards paper as more than a flat surface to be worked upon. Instead, paper fiber is considered an art material in itself and a catalyst for the creative process. Other materials may be integrated with the pulp to form three-dimensional shapes that may be further folded, dyed or torn. Techniques such as collage, assemblage, flottage and papier-colle(the pasting of newspaper or wallpaper) are also used. Combining paper with fabric, leather, metals, and other materials in new and uninhibited ways has been accepted by artists worldwide as a new field of plastic art, and through this, washi has once again become a focus of attention. The plastic art of paper has deep roots in Japan, where paper itself is appreciated as a work of art. Dyed paper in a range of colors, sukimoyo-gami (where the pattern is an internal part of the paper itself and is created during the formation process), paper  incorporating flowers and plants, paper folded or cut into shapes, crumpled paper, and paper strings – wide variety of paper products are made into both furniture and furnishings to add convenience and beauty to life. It might also be noted that Japan’s recycling of waste paper began in the eighth century. As people rediscover the beauty of antique folding fans, round fans, paper lanterns, paper-shaded table lamps, bamboo and paper umbrellas, papered sliding doors and screens, standing screens, and other paper products, these articles serve as a source of modern motifs for interior decoration and installations. Washi is a highly suitable material for these projects because of its strength, and the paper used can be recycled. Some have even named this new trend of paper art “the renaissance of paper” Plants thrive as long as water, carbon dioxide, nutrients and sunlight are available. They also provide all living things with the oxygen needed for life. After being consumed, they revert to their origins, water and carbon dioxide. With this cycle in mind, we should change our way of thinking from one of casually using paper because it is available to one of using paper for purposes only paper can meet. Furthermore, in addition to promoting forestation projects, research must be conducted into the use of such non-wood materials as kenaf, an annual plant native to India and other parts of the world, and how to deal with lignin, a natural substance contained in plants that breaks down paper and thus is an unneeded byproduct. Japan’s history of respect for paper and artistic use of paper offers suggestions for the future.



Old Yet New: The Future of Washi:

Washi and Its Reputation

Nederlands: Kusumoto Taki (1807-1865), alias S...
Image via Wikipedia

Washi paper is interesting, beautiful, fun to make and an art form with many possibilities.

Here is the third installment of “Living with Washi”. Links to the other two posts are here:

“The Development of Washi”:

The Discovery of Paper”:

In the Reference section (below) of this blog post, you can find the link to the parent site from which this article was printed in full.

Robert C. Williams Paper Museum A tool for mak...
Image via Wikipedia
Robert C. Williams Paper Museum A tool for mak...
Image via Wikipedia
■Washi and its reputation
 Towards the middle of the 16th century, Luis FROIS, a Portuguese missionary, lived in Japan and later published a book about Japanese history based on his experience. In 1590, the first Japanese book using movable type, the Christian Edition, was published on gampi paper. This paper was more beautiful and durable than any paper Europeans had known and they called it “plant parchment”. A Japanese-Portuguese dictionary of this period includes the names of many kinds of Japanese paper, demonstrating the extent of its interest to westerners. The Netherlands gained independence in the late 16th century and at the same time began trading with Japan. After the Edo (Tokugawa) shogunate adopted its policy of isolation, only the Netherlands was allowed contact with the country, and the offices of Dutch merchants in Nagasaki were Japan’s only window of trade with the outside world. When the Dutch painter Rembrandt harmensz VAN RIJN noticed that the paper wrapping lacquerware from Japan was both durable and beautiful, he immediately placed an order for washi, using it to create many masterpieces of etching. These works received great acclaim, and through this attention Japanese paper became widely known.  Engelbert KAEMPFER, a German doctor on a Dutch ship, came to Japan in 1690 and observed Japan from the point of view of a natural historian. After returning home, he wrote the Amoennitalum Exoticarum. One chapter of this account, entitled “History of Japan”, served as a guide to Japan and Japanese paper. Carl Peter THUNBERG, a Swedish botanist who came to Japan in 1774, gave a detailed account of Japanese papermaking and its raw materials in his book on the flora of Japan. Philipp Franz VON SIEBOLD, a German doctor who came to Japan in the early 19th century, disseminated information on Japan upon his return to Europe. He also brought back with him a great deal of Japanese paper and numerous paper products. When Japan opened its borders in 1852, European nations sent delegates to establish diplomatic relations. Rutherford ALCOCK, the first British minister to Japan, praised washi when describing Japanese arts and crafts in his famous work, The Capital of the Tycoon. He encouraged the exhibition of Japanese products, including washi, at the World Exposition in London in 1862. Washi also attracted the attention of the world at the Paris Expo in 1867.



Washi and its Reputation:

The Development of Japanese Washi

English: Cranes made by Origami (Washi paper)....
Image via Wikipedia
Washi paper (Sugihara paper)
Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Here is the second installment from the Washi Paper series. If you read the first post, “The Discovery of Paper” at .

In the reference section of this blog post, you can find the link to the parent site from which this article was printed in full.

Washi paper is not only an ancient art in Japan, but many beautiful art forms have come out of its use, such as creative wrappings for gifts, origami paper folding and intricate, paper dolls.

Making washi-paper-like projects are as easy as placing pieces of torn paper and water in a blender and then laying the wet pulp on a piece of screening and adding bits of flowers or other things as decoration. Here is a video to help you through the entire process.


World Papers and Washi

写真 Kozo楮
写真 Gampi雁皮
写真 Tororoaoi黄濁葵
写真 Noriutsugi糊空木

■The development of Japanese washi
Because of its location across the sea east of the coast of the Asian continent, Japan was influenced by China mainly by way of the Korean peninsula. Scripts and paper were first introduced to Japan in the fourth to fifth century, and these symbols of advanced civilization greatly influenced the thinking of the Japanese people. The subsequent introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the sixth century had a major impact. As part of its efforts to disseminate Buddhism, the government increased paper production for the transcription of sutras. People were encouraged to grow kozo, paper mulberry, as a raw material for paper, and Buddhist priests were invited from the Korean peninsula to introduce the new technology. During the high culture of the Tempyo period (eighth century), techniques to manufacture and process paper developed, and papermaking spread nationwide. As demands for paper grew, manufacturers looked for raw materials other than kozo to produce it and discovered gampi, a plant indigenous to Japan. This prompted the transition from the imitation of Chinese paper to the creation of washi, Japan’s own paper. Gampi fibers are delicate and have a natural viscosity, so although forming them into paper requires sophisticated techniques, the finished product is both beautiful and durable. A new method to make paper from hemp and kozo was invented in which the viscous mucilage of tororo-aoi (the root of a hibiscus plant) or noriutsugi bark was added. This method, established in the late eighth century to the ninth century, is today known as nagashizuki. In the Heian period (794-1185), a government – owned paper mill, or kamiyain, was established in Heiankyo (Kyoto), then the capital of Japan, to make paper for official use. The mill also dyed and processed paper and trained technicians. In addition to being used for sutras and official documents, the paper was also used for private correspondence and poetry, helping to promote the development of literature. Kana, or the Japanese syllabary, was invented from kanji, Chinese characters. A unique Japanese culture flourished, becoming free from the influence of the once predominant Chinese culture. With its abundant forests and clear streams, the Japanese environment was highly suited to papermaking, and the Japanese people, who respected nature and its cyclical changing of seasons, took pleasure in making fine papers and using them beautifully. By the time the government moved to Edo (now Tokyo), paper mills around the country were producing papers characteristic of each region. The common people used these papers widely and in this way paper became part of daily life, adding both convenience and beauty, and washi reached its zenith around the 17th century.

The Discovery of Paper

foliage of a young Paper Mulberry tree
Paper Mulberry Tree

I found this amazing article on paper and wanted to share it. When I lived in Japan, I discovered “washi” paper and even watched as it was made at this wonderful place in Kansai,  considered the cultural heart of Japan and located just outside of Tokyo.

Here is the first installment from “Living with Washi“. (Copied in full from the website listed under the Reference section of this post.)
The discovery of paper
 When we stop to consider the varieties of paper we see each day, it becomes apparent how useful this material is. Additionally, the fact that paper is made from plant fibers gives us the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between humanity and nature. From civilization’s earliest days, plants have been used for food, clothing and housing. Vines were used for tying, or were plaited into ropes. Early peoples fashioned long, strong threads by twisting together hemp or other sturdy fibers and from these thin threads wove clothing. Aboriginal peoples in Oceania and Central and South America soaked the bark of Broussonetia papyrifera Vent, a mulberry plant, in water, wrapped it in banana leaves to ferment, and pounded it flat with clubs to make tapa, or tree bark cloth, which was then dyed and made into clothing. In Mexico, amate, a similar kind of cloth, was also used for writing. The ancient Egyptians stripped the stems of the papyrus plants which grew along the River Nile, layered the fibers lengthwise and widthwise, soaked them in water, and then pressed them to make papyrus. Papyrus was unsuitable for clothing, but was useful for writing on, and the name later became the origin of the word “paper”. Thousands of years ago on the Asian continent, the Han Chinese people of the Yellow River valley invented a method for reeling silk from silkworm cocoons. Silk cloth, which is an ideal fiber, is long, thin, strong and beautiful; its smooth surface makes it suitable for both writing and painting on, as well as for the fabrication of clothing.  People the world over adored and longed for silk, but at this time it was too precious to use as a recording medium except for on special occasions. In its place, bamboo or strips of wood were typically used.Waste fibers created during the process of making silk yarn from cocoons were gathered and unravelled by beating them in water. The resulting floss silk was used for cold weather garments. After removing the floss silk from the water, a thin suspension of waste fibers remained. The first Chinese dictionary, published in AD100, explains how paper was made from these remaining fibers when strained and dried. This paper was somewhat weak for general use, but its production led to the important discovery that the waste fibers from hemp, a cheaper and more easily available clothing material in those days, could be similarly processed into a strong paper. Thereafter, paper was made primarily from plant fibers. Recently, hemp paper has been found in mounds in many locations in China dating from the Earlier Han period (180-50BC). In the Later Han period (AD100-200), Ts’ai Lun (unknown -121) improved papermaking techniques to make writing-quality paper from waste hemp products, tree bark, and other plant matter. This paper spread to regions all over China, and then to neighboring countries, replacing such contemporary communication tools as slates, clay tablets, leaves, hides and wood strips. Although it was to take years for paper to spread westward along the Silk Road, it advanced eastward rapidly.

Living with Washi:

Kansai Region:


What does the Year of the Yang Water Dragon entail?

English: A Chinese dragon; a medallion above i...
Image via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia

Water covers 2/3 of Planet Earth. The human body is comprises 95% of water. Neither the Earth or humankind can survive without water. Water  is also the natural element of the Chinese dragon. The dragon governs wealth and accumulation of wealth. Associated with thunder, lightning, and creativity at its best.

Water Dragons occur every 60 years. The last one was in 1952. The next one will be in 2072. Officially, the Chinese New Year starts on January 23 and ends February 9 of the following year.

The dragon moon for 2012 is from May 20 (new moon) to June 18. The dragon full moon falls on June 4.

The Five Elements Associated with the Year of the Dragon

  • 16 February 1904 – 3 February 1905: Wood Dragon
  • 3 February 1916 – 22 January 1917: Fire Dragon
  • 23 January 1928 – 9 February 1929: Earth Dragon
  • 8 February 1940 – 26 January 1941: Metal Dragon
  • 27 January 1952 – 13 February 1953: Water Dragon
  • 13 February 1964 – 1 February 1965: Wood Dragon
  • 31 January 1976 – 17 February 1977: Fire Dragon
  • 17 February 1988 – 5 February 1989: Earth Dragon
  • 5 February 2000 – 23 January 2001: Metal Dragon
  • 23 January 2012 – 9 February 2013: Water Dragon
  • 10 February 2024 – 28 January 2025: Wood Dragon
Zodiac Location:   5th
Ruling Hours:   7 am-9 am
Direction:   East-Southeast
Birthstone:   Ruby
Roughly the equivalent Western Sign:   Aries
Considered the mightiest of all the zodiac signs, the Dragon symbolizes dominance and ambition. They are passionate and live by their own rules. Dragons are also driven and unafraid to take risks.
Want to know more about the Chinese Year and Element you were born under, click this site.


Water Dragon Inc.:

Dragon Zodiac:

Chinese Zodiac: Dragon:

A dragon in Forbidden City, Beijing.
Image via Wikipedia

The Language of the Dragons

Since it is the glorious “Year of the Water Dragon”, and because I adore Asian dragons, I will probably devote many blogs to them… dragons, I mean, this year (2012). Here is a site from another WordPress blogger that so delighted me that I had to share it. I know you will love it as well. Don’t forget to check out the YouTube video on their site as well. Fantastic!

The Language of the Dragons:

I even wrote a haiku for the occasion:

Water dragon lives

at the bottom of the sea.

Wise, mysterious…

“Nengajo “Japanese New Year’s Cards

In the west, we send Christmas cards. In Japan, it is the custom to send New Year’s Cards.

I found this contest posted on Facebook and sponsored by: Japan Information and Culture Center (JICC), Embassy of Japan. Here are the 2012 Nengajo Design Contest Winners (Facebook

Winner, Adult Division
Lasha Tamae
Baltimore, Maryland

Winner, Youth Division
Jasmine Ying
Torrance, California



Writing New Year’s Cards:


Japanese New Year Cards: