Beautiful, strong and simple washi is made from paper mulberry in Kurotani-cho, Ayabe City of Kyoto Prefecture and the surrounding area

Where is Kurotani?
Kurotani-cho is located in a steep valley where the tributary Kurotani River joins the Isazu River, which flows into Maizuru Bay. Surrounded by tall mountains, the village formed on a small plain on the banks of the Kurotani River. In the past, most of the families made a living in papermaking. 
The History of Kurotani
About 800 years ago, the surviving soldiers of the defeated Taira Clan fled to the mountain villages of Kurotani, where they lived in hiding. Here they began supporting themselves by making washi. Since there was a lot of mountainous terrain not suited for rice farming, they made Kurotani washi, a product of the forest and a specialty item. A census in 1872, the 5th year of the Meiji Period, counted 76 households, 67 of which were engaged in papermaking.
The History of Washi Papermaking
Making washi from naturally grown paper mulberry using the water of the Kurotani River are the conditions for producing a high-quality product. The oldest surviving record on paper in Kurotani Village is the Kuyu Bunsho, which dates from 1593, the 2nd year of the Bunroku era. While they primarily manufactured paper for necessary everyday items such as shoji doors and lanterns, from around 1789 to 1801, in the Kansei era, locals improved their papermaking craft in order to sell to Kyoto. Villagers made paper used in kimonos, such as kimono wrapping paper, price tag paper and shibufuda paper.   In line with developments in silkworm farming since the Meiji period, paper was also manufactured for use in cocoon bags. Papermaking has prospered as the main industry in Kurotani since then. Please check if your intended meaning is conveyed
Kurotani Washi in the Present Day
Washi papermaking has started to decline in the mid-1950s throughout Japan due to the increase in demand for regular machine-made paper.  Even in such a situation, the ancient, traditional art of Kurotani washi continues. By developing paper and products for daily use, such as postcards and paper for letters and arts and crafts, Kurotani has become one of the leading areas for washi making in Japan. There are currently 11 paper makers in the guild. The washi they craft is processed and then distributed nationwide through this organization.
Paper Mulberry 
While washi is also made from the mitsumata plant and Diplomorpha Sikokiana, the main raw material is paper mulberry. This is because paper mulberry grows faster than these other two types of flora. Also, while the mitsumata plant and Diplomorpha Sikokiana are suited for postcard and letter paper, paper mulberry is better for making long items such as shoji doors and scrolls. The harvested paper mulberry is lined up lengthwise and put into a steamer. 
Peeling of Paper Mulberry
If the paper mulberry bark is peeled off as soon as possible after the harvested material is steamed, it can be removed neatly. There is a 91-year old woman working in this process, and she is very skillful in preparing the paper mulberry shingles, including peeling off the black bark. After adequate drying, immersion in the river makes it easy to shave off the bark. After that, a knife is used to remove the surface layer as well as any blemishes so that only superior-quality white root bark remains. This portion is then rinsed in the Kurotani River, left out to dry and exposed to sun and snow. 
Boiling Preparation and Boiling
The white root bark of the paper mulberry is again left immersed in the water for two days and nights before boiling. This further increases the beauty of the material. Next is the boiling, in which soda ash is poured into the boiling water in the cauldron before the paper mulberry is added while being stirred. The softened material is rinsed in water to remove lye and small dust particles.  
Pounding out the Paper 
Special paper is pounded by hand for about one hour; this is done in an automated mortar for regular paper. It is then put into a machine called beater to produce a pulpy, fibrous material. The root of the sunset hibiscus, which is the raw material for the starch adhesive which binds the fibers together, is added after rinsing in water and pounding with a wooden mallet on top of a stone. 
Paper is made by repeatedly inserting a mat (vinegar and a thin bamboo screen) between wooden crates called keta, then vigorously pouring out the water from the papermaking vat. 
The mat is then peeled off and the paper is piled up. The following day, a board is placed on top to press out the water. Despite the fact that this is difficult work especially in the winter as the water is cold, a majority of people engaged in papermaking has been said to be women since the ancient times.
Drying boards use a great amount of pine and gingko wood. In Mino, Japanese horse chestnut is often used. The sheets of paper are applied one at a time to the drying board with a brush and dried in natural sunlight. If the weather is good, it takes about 3 hours to dry, but takes about one day if there is rain. Lastly, the paper is sorted, counted and lined up.
The Work of the Processing Department
The finished washi is stencil dyed on the 1st floor of a community center next to the Kurotani Washi Hall. 
The Kurotani Washi Kogei-no-Sato
In 2005, the Kurotani Washi Kogei-no-Sato / Washi Craft Training Center (Traditional Arts School of Kyoto) opened in the renovated former Kuchikanbayashi Elementary School. The papermaking process can be seen and partially experienced in the former school building with the desire that many people all over the world can find out about the art of papermaking. 
Paper products
On the 2nd floor, the women of the Processing Department make such items as business card holders, decorative paper envelopes for New Year’s gifts, letter paper and envelopes from the dyed washi.
Passing the Art down to the Next Generation
Washi making has been handed down over 800 years in the once secluded village of Kurotani, but now there is only one craftsperson in the guild whose family has continued to engage in this profession for generations. Of the other 10 people, eight come from urban areas. They have different reasons for coming to Kurotani, such as the enchantment of nature or a longstanding interest in traditional papermaking, but to this day they are making washi in appreciation of the harshness and richness of that nature.
Kurotani Paper Cooperative Association
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by Kurotani Washi Cooperative Association

Text written by Ueno Masato

Exhibition created by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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