The tradition of washi making has been nurtured for over 1,300 years. Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs
The UNESCO Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage on Wednesday added Japanese papers known as “washi” to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The process of making the handmade paper has been passed on for generations for over a thousand years in Japan. Here are 5 things to know about its craftsmanship.
1. Tradition of Washi Making Has Been Nurtured for Over 1,300 Years
The tradition of manufacturing washi has been nurtured for over 1,300 years. There are a variety of washi papers depending on their manufacturing process and origin. The ones added to the heritage list are hosokawa-shi from Saitama prefecture, honmino-shi from Gifu prefecture and sekishu-banshi from Shimane prefecture. The three are all made from mulberry plant fibers.
2. Washi Making Process
The process of making the three washi papers added to the heritage list start with peeling the outer bark of the mulberry plant and soaking it in water for days. Then the plant is boiled before dirt and other impurities are removed. The fibers are loosened using wood sticks and hammers, then mixed into thickened water. Bamboo screens are used to filter it before they are dried under the sun.
3. Washi Has Been Hit by Introduction of Low Cost Paper
While production of washi has been hit hard since the introduction of low-cost, machine-made paper, the manufacturers have worked hard to preserve the craftsmanship. “Families and their employees work under masters who have inherited the techniques from their parents. The communities play roles in keeping this craftsmanship viable, ranging from the cultivation of mulberry, training in the techniques and the creation of new washi products,” UNESCO said.
4. There Are Multiple Uses for Washi
Because of its manufacturing process, washi is generally stronger than paper made from wood pulp. While they are used for calligraphy known as shodo, washi is also a key component in making paper screens, room dividers and sliding doors in Japan.
5. It Has a Distinctive, Warm Touch
“Washi has a distinctive softness and warmth to it,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a statement released Thursday after it was added to the heritage list. In addition to passing on the craftsmanship, the government will continue to support the tradition of the washi culture and preserve it for future generations, Mr. Abe added.
Nov 27, 2014 JAPAN
By JUN HONGO