A handmade paper tradition dating back to the Muromachi period (1392–1573)

The Mogami River
Shiratakamachi, where Miyama washi paper is made, is located in the Miyama region of central  Yamagata prefecture. The Mogami River that flows from north to south through the middle of town provides ever changing scenery.
Miyama District
The gentle Shirataka Hills sit on the east side of the river, while the Asahi Mountains, including Mt. Hayama, provide a deep mountainous landscape of peaks over 1000 meters high on the west side of the river . 
Muromachi Period Origins
The history of Miyama washi is thought to date back as far as the Muromachi period (1392–1573). Papermaking took place in Miyama and in peripheral areas. Historical documents from the seventeenth century mention that the noborigami delivered to Edo from Miyama was of high quality; telling us that paper was already being produced in the area by that time. Later, papermaking became one of various local industries to be promoted by Uesugi Yōzan (1751–1852), the ninth head of the ruling Yonezawa clan. Yōzan encouraged the cultivation of kozo (paper mulberry trees), whose fibers form the basic component of handmade paper. Miyama paper was used not only for shōji (paper screen windows or doors) but also for official documents of the Uesugi clan, as well as for wrapping specialty local products such as dried safflower and ramie fibers for shipping. 
Miyama Washi Promotion and Research Center
During the peak of its production, half of the one hundred households in Miyama were involved in the making of washi paper. Though papermaking had been done for centuries by entire villages of farming households in the Miyama area—handed down from generation to generation as a family business during the long winters—papermaking within most private households ceased by the late 1960s or early 1970s. Many traditional industries also began to fall into decline nationwide during this period. Miyama washi was once made in every household, but it is now produced only in the Miyama Washi Promotion and Research Center.
Miyama Washi Promotion and Research Center
Takahashi Megumi has been in charge of papermaking at the Miyama Washi Promotion and Research Center since the year 2003. Besides actually producing Miyama paper, the Center also exhibits photographs and panels detailing the processes of papermaking, and gives visitors a chance to see how paper is actually made. Visitors can also make their own paper if they book in advance. In addition, there are also papermaking opportunities each year in late September (for example, September 20–21, 2015) during the festival Shirataka Ayu Matsuri, celebrating the abundance of ayu (sweetfish) found inhabiting in the clear currents of Mogami River.  At a craft fair held in conjunction with the festival, visitors can try making their own paper, decorating it with drawings, or doing paper marbling.
In the late 60s or early 70s
The images on display at the Miyama Washi Promotion and Research Center show the making of Miyama paper during the late 1960s or early 1970s. These photos show images of a large group of people, an entire family, gathering to prepare the fibers to make paper, including steaming the kozo branches and peeling the bark. Miyama paper has been designated an Intangible Cultural Property of Yamagata prefecture due to its production techniques that have remained essentially unchanged since the Edo period (1615–1868). Today, the very same traditional production techniques continue to be used.
Panicled hydrangea (noriutsugi)
Traditional Miyama papermaking, which continues today, typically includes the addition of fibers from a plant called panicled hydrangea which serves as an adhesive, adding viscosity to the pulp vat and helping to disperse fibers evenly. In other parts of Japan, sunset hibiscuses are cultivated this purpose, panicled hydrangeas are cultivated as an alternative to this in many regions of Yamagata prefecture. Panicled hydrangea, however, is difficult to cultivate, for which reason many papermakers harvest panicled hydrangeas that grow naturally in the mountains. Thus, not many types of washi are made using panicled hydrangea. In this way, it is vital to hand down tools and knowledge about raw materials in addition to the techniques of papermaking.
Safflower Dyed Paper
Today, Miyama paper is not only restricted to traditional white produced in the sizes needed for shoji screens; the region also produces paper that dyed pink with locally grown safflower (benibana).
Paper for Graduation Certificates
In recent years, Miyama paper has become widely used for graduation certificates at universities and other schools. 
Other Miyama Washi Products
Miyama washi is also made to various sizes and for various purposes. The many new products made using Miyama paper include business cards, envelopes, memo pads, shikishi (square "poem cards"), pen cases, place mats, interior decorations, and lampshades, all of which are available for purchase at the Center’s shop. The Center also showcases Shirataka dolls made from Miyama paper by the Shirataka Doll Society.  
Yuki Andon Paper Lanterns
A combination of Miyama paper and the organic EL panel that was invented in Yamagata created a new lighting product entitled YUKI ANDON ("snow lanterns").
Papermaking Steps: Harvesting
At the end of November all the leaves on kozo (paper mulberry)trees are shaken off and the cut wood is divided by size into various groups. Upon yielding about 19 kg, each group of wood is then bundled together. 
Papermaking Steps: Cutting and Steaming
 Cutting: The kozo wood is cut into lengths of about 80 cm and tied into 26 kg .                              Steaming: A straw platform called a hekubi is placed over a steaming pot. The bundles of paper mulberry wood are then place on top of the straw platform and covered with a barrel. The whole thing is then steamed for about 2–3 hours.
Papermaking Steps: Peeling Bark
Water is poured over the steamed wood is and the bark is rapidly peeled off before the wood cools completely.
Papermaking Steps: Drying, Peeling Fibers, Bleaching
Drying:  The peeled strips of bark (called kurokawa, lit., "black bark") is put together into small bundles and hung over a hase (drying rack) under the eaves to dry.                    Peeling Fibers: Once dry, the kurokawa bark is then soaked in water until soft, at which point the bark layers on the outside of are peeled or scraped off using a special knife, leaving behind the light colored bast fibers (shirokawa, lit., "white bark").                     Drying: The fibers are then hung over the hase or placed directly on the snow for between seven to ten days to bleach. Finally, the whitened fibers are dried completely for storage.
Papermaking Steps: Washing and Boiling
Washing: In this step the kozo fibers are rinsed to remove all dust and dirt that may have adhered to them during the preceding processes.                    Cooking:  Using alkali water (sodium carbonate aqueous solution) the bark is simmered for one to two hours. If any fibers float to the surface during this time, they are pressed down again with a pole.
Papermaking Steps: Rinsing and Beating
Rinsing: Soda water and dirt is rinsed off.                             Beating: The cooked fibers are beaten with a wooden club to separate and soften them.
Papermaking Steps: Forming Sheets of Paper
 Water is placed in the basin wherein the paper will be made. Into this is added an adequate amount of paper mulberry pulp and the adhesive agent; these are stirred to mix. The adhesive agent is highly viscous, allowing the fibers of the paper mulberry pulp to remain evenly dispersed in the water. In the case of Miyama paper, the inner part of the bark of panicled hydrangea is used to make the fiber-dispersing mixture. The paper mold holds a saku (a mat made from fine rods of split bamboo or reed bound together). The papermaker forms a sheet of paper by scooping up the mixture, shaking it back and forth and left and right to eliminate excess water. This step is repeated. If done properly, the fibers will be evenly distributed across the saku forming a sheet of paper. Once a sheet is completed, is it then layered on other finished sheets on the oshi-ita pressing board.
Papermaking Steps: Pressing and Drying
Pressing: The paper placed in layers on the oshi-ita pressing board is compressed to eliminate excess water.  Drying: Using a stick, the papermaker carefully removes each sheet of paper from from the stack and places it over a board made from Japanese Judas (katsura) tree to dry in the sun or in a drying machine. 
In the past the edges of the paper were trimmed off after the paper had dried. Today it is common to retain the edges as they are a sign of handmade paper.
Miyama Washi Promotion and Research Center
Besides the making of Miyama paper, the Center also exhibits photographs and panels of the process of papermaking, as well as allowing visitors a chance to see how paper is actually made. Visitors can make their own paper they book in advance.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by Miyama washi shinko kenkyu center

Text written by Oyama Tatsuaki, Tohoku University of Art and Design, Institute for Conservation of Cultural Property

Exhibition created by Kobayashi Yuka & Sakashita Riho, Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

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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