Washi means Japanese paper and is crafted with techniques which were imported from China over 1,000 years ago. Whilst there are many different theories for where paper-making was first introduced to Japan, Kyushu is amongst the places believed to have first inherited the tradition. Today, washi can be found all across the country; it is used for writing, wallpapers, lanterns, and also for clothing, embodying a big part of Japanese culture.
Now meet the creator: Nao Tesuki Washi, a paper making workshop in the Nao region of Saga Prefecture. Here the craft of washi making has been passed down through seven generations and now lies with Gen Taniguchi. Paper making was an ubiquitous craft in Japan, but after the country’s industrialisation, the tradition started to disappear. Today the paper is still used for calligraphy, writing and shoji screen panels, but it’s becoming a craft largely reserved for special occasions. Whilst at the height of its production, there were over 100 washi makers in the Nao region, Nao Tesuki Washi is now the only producer left in the area.
Nao Tesuki Washi has become the only remaining washi producer in the area
A long and fibrous material that comes from the kozo plant, a species of mulberry tree, is used to make washi. Only the bark of the plant, or specifically the inner white part of the bark, is used in the production of this paper. The fibers are extracted from the mulberry plant every February, leaving the tree a full year to grow back between harvests. The fibres are mixed with cold water and a viscous liquid extracted from the sunset hibiscus plant, which dissolves into the water and divides the fibres equally across the mix. By running this substance through a sieve, the fibres accumulate and become paper.
The species of mulberry plant that Gen uses for his washi, kaji, is quite unique as most washi makers use fibers from the kozo. Nao Washi grows all the kaji used in production themselves.
Washi-making is a very labour-intensive craft. The Nao region lent itself to this craft due to the abundance of spring water and a climate favourable to the cultivation of raw materials. Now the continuation of the craft in the area lies with Gen and his team.The workshop aims to spark new energy by incorporating the centuries-old tradition into modern designs and ideas to create something new and innovative, providing washi with a renewed relevance.