washi 和紙
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Handmade Japanese paper made from long natural fibers. Most commonly used fibers include mulberry kouzo 楮 (see *choshi 楮紙), hemp asa 麻 (see *mashi 麻紙), diplomorpha sikokiana ganpi 雁皮 (see *ganpishi 雁皮紙), and edgeworthia papyrifera mitsumata 三椏 (see *mitsumatagami 三椏紙). The long natural fibers used to make washi stronger than machine-made paper (western paper), youshi 洋紙 in Japan. Handmade paper is made in many parts of Asia and Europe but washi is noted as the finest and strongest. The original, natural color and shine of the fibers used are clearly visible in the finished paper. Kouzo binds well and gives a very tough paper, ganpi is semi-translucent and gives a shiny finish. Mitsumata is very smooth and pliable. Washi also has a distinctive production process, which can still be seen in a few places. After harvesting the plants, the paper-maker strips off the dark outer bark by long soaking or sometimes steaming bundles of stems. Then the whitish inner fibers are boiled, and all bits of bark and the debris carefully screened. Glutinous vegetable material, neri ねり, and water are added to the paper pulp extracted fibers in the vat. This mixture is then shaken to give it a homogeneous texture. Next, a fine layer is scooped up onto a tray-screen. This shaking and scooping process nagashisuki 流し漉き, is repeated many times until the layer of paper-to-be has reached the required thickness. Then surplus water and various impurities are drained away. The wet sheet is peeled off, and after a number have been produced, transferred to a special board to be stretched and dried in the sun. The slat marks from the screen remain visible in the semi-translucent finished sheets of paper. The size of the tray-screen, which varies somewhat from place to place but is ultimately limited by the artisan's arm span, determines the size of the sheets of paper. Washi is decorated in various ways; some applied to the finished paper, but others created during the production process. For example, dyed fibers are added to the natural fiber mix when making *uchigumori 打曇 and tobikumo 飛雲 paper. The patches of color create a kind of cloud pattern. See *ryoushi soushoku 料紙装飾 for more information.
According to the NIHONSHOKI 日本書紀 (Chronicle of Japan ; compiled in 720) paper making techniques were brought to Japan from China in the year 610. The oldest datable example is the paper used for the census in 702 and preserved in *Shousouin 正倉院, Nara. Records show that the number of paper making households in Japan increased very rapidly from the 8c onwards. Early uses of washi were for taxation records and for the copying of Buddhist sutras. Paper making spread from central Japan to other areas, and a mixture of ganpi and kouzo type paper seems to have been common. From the late 8c to 9c, the neri and nagashisuki methods of paper making were developed and produced a fine-grained paper. Being both fine and strong, washi was suitable for hand scrolls *kansubon 巻子本, which had to withstand being rolled and unrolled, and not be too bulky. In the Heian period 42 regions of Japan are said to have made paper. Various techniques were invented to decorate paper used for poetry writing, which was extremely popular among the courtiers and the ladies serving at the court. The best example of fine quality paper with the most sophisticated decoration is found in the early 12c anthology Sanjuurokuninshuu 三十六人集 from Nishihonganji 西本願寺 in Kyoto.
In the Kamakura period the central court lost its economic control over paper making and thus producers in other regions were able to trade freely. As a result, regional specialities developed, and the local papers were sometimes named after the place of origin. For example, *suiharagami 杉原紙, a type of choshi from a village in Hyougo prefecture, was favored by the samurai class. *torinokogami 鳥の子紙 and *mamiaigami 間似合紙 were among the papers originated in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. *Housho 奉書, another type of choshi from Echizen 越前 (modern Fukui prefecture), became popular in the Edo period. Each paper was smoother textured than its predecessor as neri methods advanced. During the 15c and 16c, papermaking was encouraged as a means of wealth production, and by the Edo period each district was producing its own paper, under a kind of local monopoly system. The mulberry plant, used to make choshi, is very easy to grow even on terrain unsuited to other forms of agriculture and so even poor areas could generate income from papermaking. Gradually, the quantity of production became more of a priority than quality, and a tendency to import high quality writing paper from China (see *toushi 唐紙 and *gasenshi 画仙紙), and to use washi for items of daily use such as *fusuma 襖, fans and umbrellas also developed.
In the Meiji period demand for paper dramatically increased and production reached its peak in 1901 with about 200,000 people involved in papermaking. After that production decreased rapidly with the coming of western machine made paper. In 1984 there were fewer than 500 households making washi. A rayon substitute found for fusuma paper and the higher productivity of paper making machines contributed to the decline of washi production. However, through the efforts of men such as Yanagi Muneyoshi 柳宗悦 (1889-1961) of the Arts and Crafts movement, the beauty of traditionally made washi has been increasingly recognized and in 1969 it was designated as an important cultural asset and given official encouragement and protection.


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