traditional Japanese Paper from Kurotani, Kyoto

Washi as interior decoration
Handmade Japanese paper, known as ‘washi’, lends a room a gentle ambiance as light passes through paper-covered sliding doors. Today ‘paper’ usually makes us think of books or sheets for writing, but in this picture we see a room whose walls, floor and windows are covered with hand-made paper fittings.
Washi has long been a much-loved material in Japanese daily life. Both lightweight and strong, it has been used not only for stationery but to make umbrellas, various containers, and a wide range of other items. However, as people today tend to see paper as lacking water-resistance and durability, applications of washi have steadily decreased.
Washi
Plates, boxes, tables…Everything here is made of washi. For many generations workshops in Ayabe City, northern Kyoto Prefecture,  have been preserving traditional washi-making and inventing new applications.
Kurotani
Washi from Ayabe is known as Kurotani washi after the village where it has been produced since ancient times. For 800 years, Kurotani paper-makers have cultivated their own supply of high quality mulberry trees, and continue to produce mulberry-fiber washi to this day. Local artisans use their wealth of experience to create products which make the most of the inherent beauty and strength of handmade paper.
A Strong Paper
Kurotani washi is known for its toughness.  In the Taishō period it was recognized by the government as “Japan’s strongest paper”. It is precisely this hardness and durability that make it suitable for use on walls and floors.
Back to nature
Paper is a natural product. Even if this wall is demolished, the material used in it will return to nature. In modern Japan, as traditional Japanese-style rooms become rarer and environmental problems abound, washi is increasingly broadening its role as a material able to modify or create our living environment.
Wataru Hatano
Wataru Hatano is an artist working with washi in new ways, be it in fine art, interiors, or product design. He collaborates with people from different disciplines including plasterers, architects and landscape artists. Hatano works to broaden the appeal and the potential of washi throughout Japan and around the world.
Traditional Washi
In the past, washi was made only from bast fibers harvested from trees like the paper mulberry (kōzo), paper birch (mitsumata) and the clove-like bush, ganpi. In recent years however, technology to pulpify wood, and readily available imported raw materials, have resulted in the spread of mixed-source paper, while traditional washi has become increasingly rare. Hatano feels that “People hardly ever encounter sturdy, beautiful, mulberry paper nowadays – the paper we use to make items like umbrellas.”
Wa-no-kami
In order to help people distinguish his paper, made entirely from paper mulberry, from other washi, Hatano calls his paper “Wa-no-kami”.
Finally
In the past when manufactured items were limited, the Japanese appreciated and exploited the distinctive qualities of handmade paper. However, this wisdom is gradually being lost over time. Today, as in the past, washi offers a wealth of potential applications. It is up to us to preserve it for the future.
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Credits: Story

Photograph by:
Wataru Hatano
Yoshiyuki Mori


Text and exhibition created by:
Yukeri Aoi, Kyoto Women's University
Nao Asamoto, Kyoto Women's University
Yu Adachi, Kyoto Women's University


Text and exhibition edited by:
Wataru Hatano


English translation by:
Eddy Y.L. Chang
Martie Jelinek


Project Directors:
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor,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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