Inshū Washi paper- Aoya District

For various purposes from restoration paper to wallpaper

By Tottori Prefectural Government

Tottori Prefectural Government

Google Arts & Culture: Inshu washi paper, Aoya DistrictTottori Prefectural Government

Production area of Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

The history of Aoya

Aoya town faces the Sea of Japan, and as the Aoya-Kamijichi Archeological Site suggests, it has been a prosperous town since ancient times. Washi paper production developed along the Hikigawa River basin. Although the origin of Inshu washi is uncertain, a document with the seal of the Inaba province (part of present-day Tottori prefecture) is found on eighth-century documents in the collection of the Soshoin repository. Furthermore, a medieval historical record called the Engishiki (compiled between 905 and 927) records that paper from the Inaba province was presented to the Imperial court. These references suggest the history of Inshu washi goes back more than 1200 years. 

Paper mulberry, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

The history if Inshu washi

Year after year the historical production of Inshu washi increased. Around 1600 the feudal lord Kamei Korenori (1557-1612), who ruled the Shikano area, enacted edicts to protect the sources of pulp for papermaking of the mulberry and gampi tress. Lord Kamei noted in his writings that these "trees must not be cut or felled." During the Edo period (1615-1868), paper was a popular commodity for feudal clans and common folk, and its production like that of Inshu washi was a protected trade overseen by the kamiza (paper trade guild).

World Exposition Award in Paris, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (1889)Tottori Prefectural Government

Fusayasu Kihachi's World Exposition Award  in Paris

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), the focus of prefectural oversight in papermaking materials turned to the cultivation of paperbush. Modern bleaching techniques were also introduced as this time, and along with a sharp increase in demand, mechanical production of paper expanded (from about 500 factories earlier in the Edo period to more than 1300). This trend continued through the end of the Taisho period (1912-1926). Tantamount to this continued growth was the work of Fusayasu Kihachi (1852-1930), who dedicated himself to the development of Inshu washi by proactively promoting innovative techniques and winning prestigious awards like that at the Paris World Exposition in 1900.  

Book of sample washi paper, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (1927) by Tottori Institute of Industrial TechnologyTottori Prefectural Government

Promotion of washi paper in the early Showa period (1926-1989)

The work entitled "Inaba Paper Sample Book" was produced in 1927 by the Tottori Prefectural Industrial Experiment Station (present-day Tottori Institute of Industrial Technology) to promote the area's paper production. It was a collection of samples of contemporarily-made washi paper, as well as, comparative samples from the early-Edo period. The book contained information on the current production, including quantities and qualities, as well as historical materials such as photographs and documents. The book helped establish washi paper production as an important local industry.  

Washi paper, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Inshū washi today

After World War II, the proliferation of office machines and rapid changes in lifestyle dealt a devastating blow to washi paper production and products such as thin office note paper and shoji (sliding door) paper. To counter this decline, Inshu washi production shifted its focus to specialty calligraphy, craft, and dyed papers, all of which have remained popular until today with washi aficionados and calligraphers.

Washi paper, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Dyed Inshū washi paper

Colorfully dyed washi paper is popular and used for a variety of purposes, including gift wrapping and the creation of pictures of torn paper, called chigiri-e. 

Earrings, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Accessories made with Inshu washi paper

Today, Inshu washi paper is also used to make novel accessories. Being both lightweight and durable, washi paper allows for a wide range of innovative designs.

Lighting fixture at the entrance of Aoya Washi Kōbō, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Innovation in Inshu washi paper

With technical and technological advances, increased effort has been made to develop new uses for washi paper. Innovative products like three-dimensional paper and functional paper have been created to meet the demands of the times. Inshu washi paper production strives to evolve in ways to continue to be relevant now and in the future. 

The Inaba Paper Ancestry monument, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Monument to paper making

The Inaba Paper Ancestry Monument was erected to memorialize those craftsmen and artisans involved in the long history  of paper making in the area, as well as, to wish for continued prosperity. An annual paper festival is held every May.

Paper mulberrry bark, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Raw materials

Fibers from paperbush, mulberry, and gampi trees are carefully processed to produce optimal pulp suitable for washi paper production. The bark is steamed to allow for easy removal, with the outermost layer stripped away. 

Removing the outer layer, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Removal of outer layer

The remaining outer layer is carefully removed from the epidermis. This is done in a two-step process. The first step, called the "kagofumi," entails stomping on the bark pieces to soften the inner mulberry fibers. The second step, called the "kagonade," uses a knife to remove the damaged sections and knots by scrapping the pieces with the edge of the blade. Unlike general washi papermaking where usually only the inner part of the bark is used, a distinct characteristic of Ishu washi papermaking is that both the inner layer of bark and the greenish epidermis is used.

Paper mulberry fibers, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Processing the fibers

Water is used to clean all excess particles remaining on the bark pieces, which are then laid out to dry. The pieces are then heated with soda lime, so that only the fibers remain. Wood ashes and lime are also sometimes used. Next, any remaining fragments of bark are carefully removed and the fibers are beaten with a rod to separate.

Abelmoschus manihot, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Pulp mixture

Water and raw fibers are combined in a papermaking vessel called a "sukifune," and stirred to loosen up the fibers. Next, a viscous agent called "sana" is added and mixed to evenly distribute the fibers. "Sana" is a term used in Inshu for this specific transparent liquid made from the roots of the abelmoschus maihot plant. 

Pulp scooping to make paper, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Pulp collecting to create paper

The "sugeta," or wooden frame with woven reed screen, is worked through the water solution containing dissolved fibers. The fibers are collected on the woven reed screen, evenly distributed by moving the wooden frame from side to side.

Overlaying, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government


The papermaking process involves removing the wet sheets of collected fibers and overlaying them on top of each other. Once the water has been removed and they have dried, the stacks of paper are then cropped and finished. 

Machine papermaking 1, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Mechanical papermaking

In addition to papermaking by hand, mechanical papermaking has also been developed for mass production.

Machine papermaking 2, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Mechanical papermaking: pulp collection

A water solution containing dissolved fibers is poured over a revolving reed screen similar to a conveyor belt, gradually removing water to expose an even layer of remaining fibers.

Machine papermaking 3, Inshū washi paper, Aoya District (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Mechanical papermaking: drying

The continuous remaining sheet of fibers is rolled over a large heated drum that acts like an iron by removing the remaining moisture. The dried sheet of fibers is then rolled up.

Cropping, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Cutting and cropping

The rolled washi paper is then cut and cropped into standardized calligraphy paper sizes, which is bundled to be sold.

Paper for calligraphy, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Standardize products

The washi paper is produced using an optimal mix of fibers from mulberry, paperbush, gampi, straw, cogongrass, bamboo, and wood. The calligraphy paper is created to showcase the varied richness of the ink through techniques of shading, bleeding, and blending. In addition, a wide range of paper types and grades are produced depending on a variety of specific usages. For example, specalized papers are created for ink painting and traditional Japanese painting, or "Nihonga."  

Lighting products, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Lighting products

Paper made with mulberry fibers is optimal for a variety of lighting products. This washi paper allows for soft, diffused lighting popular in commercial facilities such as restaurants and shops, as well as, in private homes.

Building materials, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

Interior design elements

Durable paper made from mulberry pulp is used to create a variety of wallcoverings and fusuma, or sliding door designs, highlighting the natural colors and textures popular in interior design. These products are used in high-end ryokan inns, shops, and public facilities. 

Aoya Washi Kōbō, Inshū washi paper, Aoya district (2016-07)Tottori Prefectural Government

The Aoya Washi Kobo papermaking workshop

The Aoya Washi Kobo is a public papermaking workshop located at Aoya town in Tottori city that provides both instruction in traditional Inshu washi, and exhibition of local papermaking culture. Special exhibitions are regularly held, including the Akari-ten exhibition that introduces innovative applications of Inshu washi paper. There are also a variety of hands-on activities, which provide visitors the chance to make their own washi paper to create an original lampshade.

Credits: Story

Information & images provided by:
Tottori Prefecture & Tottori City

Supported by:
Tottori-ken Inshū washi kyōdōkumiai,
Atarashiya seishi Co. Ltd.
Hasegawa Norito seishi kōjō
Daiinshū seishi Co. Ltd.
Aoya washi kōbō

Directed by:
Tottori Prefecture & Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Text by:
Tottori Prefecture

Photo by:
Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University,
Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

Movie by:
Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

English Translation by:
Eddy Y. L. Chang

Edit by:
Laura J. Mueller

This exhibition is created by:
Taoka Yuri & Watanabe Aoi, Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

This exhibition is provided by:
Tottori Prefectural Government

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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