Handmade Paper from Echizen
When the villagers asked for her name, answering simply that she lived up the Okamoto river, she vanished. Since then, the villagers have worshiped the “Upper River” goddess, Kawakami Gozen, as the ancestral deity of paper. Based on the its long-distinguished history, in 1923 the Papermaking Section of the National Printing Bureau in the Ministry of Finance has honored the papermaking goddess and she has become the guardian of the paper production for all Japan.
Early on Goka papermakers perfected the art of making banknotes. The closely bound industry could produce large amounts of paper in a short time and to oversee strict quality control. So, when the new Meiji government issued the first banknotes of Imperial Japanese Paper Currency to be honored throughout the whole country, Goka took on job of producing the paper for them in a single order.
Connections with paper money continued after that. Seven of the people from the paper workshop that made the first Imperial Japanese banknotes, were appointed to the National Printing Bureau under the Ministry of Finance to develop a unique paper solely for banknotes. They perfected a special tamezuki paper for printing and thereby built the foundation for Japanese modern banknote paper. The Goka artisans then used this knowledge to develop their own tamezuki torinoko paper, which in turn stimulated modernization in the area.
At the same time, to compete with the large amount of inexpensive, quality western paper being imported, Goka over produced lower-grade paper. Just when the prices were at a low due to large-scale production, the first Heizaburo Iwano (1878-1960), known as the father restorer of Echizen washi, set about to develop the best quality art paper.
Seeing the mashi paper, scholars and Japanese painters told Heizaburo that if he improved the quality, mashi would definitely create a revolution in calligraphy paper. The painter Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958) had the perceptive insight that Iwano’s new hemp paper would dramatically change the paper for Japanese painting and used it for a painting he presented to the Empress.
Since he served as an intermediary for Japanese paintings given to royalties, this led to orders for papers to make ceiling paintings (tenjōga) and sliding doors (fusuma). When the third Heizaburo heard of the mashi given special approval, he wrote in a letter dated 1928/4/7, “For several thousand years we have been under control of the Chinese, now we have gained our independence with Japanese-made art paper, a boon for the nation.”
On the one hand, like the hemp paper developed by Heizaburō Iwano, each of the paper mills have invented new types of art paper that are known in and out of Japan, while on the other hand the Ichibei Iwano household has continued to make paper for woodblock prints that can withstand being printed as many as three hundred times. Innovation and tradition exist side by side.
Information provided and Supported by:
Iwano Heizaburo Paper mills co., Ltd.
Echizen Washi Village Paper and Culture Museum
Sugihara Yoshinao, Sugihara Shoten co., Ltd.
Fukui Fine Arts Museum
Fukui prefecture Washi Industrial Cooperative Association
Yamada Paper mills
Nakagawa Chie, Echizen Washi Village Paper and Culture Museum
Text written by:
Sasaki Miho, Fukui Fine Arts Museum
English translation by:
Miyo Kurosaki Bethe
Exhibition created by:
Ueyama Emiko, Kyoto Women's University
Nagatomo Kana, Kyoto Women's University
Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University
Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University