Washi Paper: The Japanese Paper Perfect for Arts and Crafts

There are many items that one can use in order to create arts and crafts. Specifically, in Japan, there are various items in the country that can be used for numerous purposes in terms of arts. This is because Japan serves as a home to various artists and a rich history and culture in the arts. Among the many items produced by Japan to cater to the artists in the country would be none other than washi paper. Artists who like decorating or writing in their journals with the use of various crafts would be well-aware what a washi paper is.

The History of Washi Paper 

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Washi is basically a type of paper that was first produced in the country of Japan. Typically made from the fibers of specific plants, washi is a common item used by the Japanese people. The fibers are usually sourced from the bark of the gampi tree, the paper mulberry or kozo, or the mitsumata shrub, also known as Edgeworthia chrysantha. However, other sources can also be used in making washi such as bamboo, wheat, hemp, and rise.

The term “washi” was based on two words, namely, “wa,” which means “Japanese,” and “shi,” which means “paper.” The term “washi” is also used to depict paper that is created by hand in the traditional method. Washi paper is so unique and popular worldwide that it is registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

In comparison to ordinary paper that is made from wood pulp, washi is considerably much tougher. Because of this, washi paper is also typically used in various traditional arts in Japan. Crafts such as origami, shodo, and ukiyo-e are all made using washi. There are also other uses to washi such as making several everyday goods. This includes clothes, toys, and household goods. Even vestments and ritual objects used by Shinto priests as well as for statues of Buddha can be made using washi.

Washi is so special to the hearts of the Japanese people that it was even utilized to make wreaths. These wreaths were made to be given to the winners in the 1998 Winter Paralympics. Various types of washi are collectively known as Japanese tissue. These kinds of washi are also utilized to conserve and even mend books that have been broken through time and handling.

While paper was first made in China during the 1st century, the art of producing one was brought to Japan in 610 AD. It was brought by Buddhist monks who made paper for the purpose of writing sutras. The skills of the Japanese people in producing paper developed through the years. By the year 800, the Japanese people were already able to create paper of various designs, textures, and color. It was only until the 13th century when Europe even began learning the art of making paper, which was already 600 years after Japan learned the skill.

Over 100,000 families in Japan were already making paper by hand come the late 1800s. However, upon the introduction of mechanized paper-making technology, the number of families making washi paper by hand decreased. By the year 1983, only about 479 families were left in the handmade paper-making industry in Japan. At present, it can be quite a struggle for these families to compete against those handmade papers produced from Thailand, Nepal, and India. Nonetheless, these families continue to uphold their tradition of making handmade papers, among them being washi paper.

Making Sheets of Washi Paper from Raw Materials

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It is considerably easier to produce washi paper in Japan than in other countries. This is because the raw materials used in making washi is homegrown in Japan. These raw materials are the inner barks of three plants, namely, kozo, mitsumata, and gampi. All native to Japan, the locals no longer need to outsource these raw materials.

Also known as paper mulberry, kozo is recognized as the masculine element of washi. Thick and strong, it serves as the protector of the other elements of washi. Out of the three fibers, kozo is the most commonly used fiber. It is also the strongest of the three. Grown as a farm crop, kozo naturally regenerates on a yearly basis, which means that there is no depletion of forests in the process. The toughness of this material can be compared to the toughness of cloth. Another special thing about washi made from kozo in comparison to ordinary paper is that the former does not easily weaken when treated with water.

On the other hand, the feminine element would be mitsumata. Unlike kozo, mitsumata is delicate and soft. It may take some time to grow mitsumata, but when it grows, it grows delicately. Due to the length of time it takes to grow mitsumata, it is a bit more expensive in comparison to kozo. Also grown as a crop, mitsumata is indigenous to Japan. With the color of ivory, mitsumata has a fine surface. It can also be used for shodo and printing. During the Meiji period, mistumata was also used to print paper money.

Recognized as the noblest fiber, gampi was the earliest fiber out of the three. Its specialty is its richness and longevity. It provides a natural sheen and is typically used to make very thin tissues. These tissues are then utilized for book conservation and chine-collé printmaking. It also serves as a good canvass for writing as it does not bleed. Formerly called hishi back in the day, gampi consists of a smooth and shiny surface. Aside from books, it is also often used for crafts. Other fibers that can also be used to make washi include hemp, rayon, silver or gold foil, abasa, and horsehair.

Producing washi paper is a bit similar to the methods of making ordinary paper. However, making washi paper depends heavily on manual methods. The process is not only long but also intricate. Hence, it is important for people to have the proper knowledge of producing washi before taking on the task. Producing washi is also often done in cold weather is the runner water to be used to make washi paper should be pure and cold. This is because the cold stops the decomposition of the fibers due to bacteria. Furthermore, the temperature also makes the fibers contract, which in turn provides that crisp feel to the paper.

First off, the branches of the bush, whether it is kozo, mitsumata, or gampi, should be trimmed and soaked. Remove the bark and separate the tough pliant inner bark. This alone may already take a while as the separation may take a lot of strength and effort. After separation, clean them to remove any impurities. After which, it would be time to pound and stretch them.

Add a certain liquid solution to the pounded fiber. After which, combine this with tororo-aoi, which is basically fermented hibiscus root, as a mucilage. This shall result in a substance with a texture of a paste after mixing. This “paste” shall then be tossed then spread evenly on a su, which is a bamboo mesh screen. This mesh screen shall form each sheet of washi paper. Pile them up wet and lay them out to dry on wood under the sun. One may also dry them indoors given that there is a heated dryer.

The Different Features of Washi Paper, Tape, and Rolls for Sale

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Washi paper consists of a lot of distinct features that sets it apart from other types of paper. One of its distinct features is its warmth. People with sensitive skin would definitely be able to tell that washi paper is literally warmer than papers made from the West, which were made of woodpulp. Washi paper also provides warmth figuratively. With its soft texture, many users feel warmth from seeing the lightness and softness of the features of washi paper. It has tactile qualities that make it great to use for books as well as invitations. It is also used in chiyogami or yuzen.

The second distinct feature of washi paper is its body. The fibers used in making washi paper were left for a long time. Moreover, these fibers were also pounded and stretch instead of chopped, which made washi stronger. Pure-fibered washi is also known to be strong that it can even be sewn. Back in the day, this type of washi was also utilized for armor and kimono-lining. It is also similar to that of Japanese ogura lace paper.

As was mentioned, the strength of washi paper is commendable. Even when wet, washi is still workable due to the length of its fibers as well as the nature of the raw materials used to produce washi. Hence, washi is great for papier maché and etching in, provided that the washi is soaked. The long fibers of washi also give off a deckle edge, which is the rough edge that connotes handmade paper. Despite its strength, washi also has that soft translucency that many people love. This is due to its fibers kozo and mitsumata, which as naturally translucent fibers. Hence, it can be utilized for light transmission.

One other great distinct feature of washi paper is its absorbency. Due to the nature of the fibers used in creating washi, the paper absorbs inks and dyes quite efficiently. Pure-fibered and dyed paper is of much denser quality. Moreover, it provides a more vibrant color when watercolor dyes are put on the washi. Hence, washi is great for decorative purposes.

Because the fibers are placed at random positions, washi contains no real grain. Due to this, washi is highly flexible. It can resist creasing, tearing, and wrinkling. Suffice it to say, washi can be utilized similar to cloths. This is why washi is great for covering books and boxes. In comparison to other papers of equal thickness, washi also weighs so much lighter. Moreover, washi also contains low acidity as Japanese papers made traditionally are usually made free from acids.

Last but certainly not the least, one of the distinct features of washi is its decoration. One of the reasons why washi is great of arts and crafts is because of its looks and designs. Marked with various patterns and designs, artists sometimes cannot help but hoard rolls, tapes, and sheet of washi that are on sale. Aside from the many purposes that it serves, washi provides a great look or decoration to books and diaries.

Uses of Washi Paper Not Just in Arts and Crafts

Aside from arts and crafts, washi is also used for other purposes. This includes printing. Due to the special absorbency of washi, as well as its strength and texture, it can be used for various printing techniques. It can also be embossed and etched due to its many great qualities as a craft item. It can also be used for wood engraving, letterpress, and linoblock methods.

Due to the wide range of colors, textures, and patterns of washi, it can also be used to make a collage. In addition to its wet strength, washi can be used as a canvass for watercolor painting. Because of its translucency, washi can further be used for light transmissions. Traditionally, washi has been used in screens as well as lamps. Moisten the washi before applying to a surface and let it dry. Because washi shrinks a bit when drying, it also helps tighten to a frame more securely.

As was said, washi can also be used for bookbinding. Due to its strength and flexibility, washi works great for book covers as well as end papers. Washi may also be used for book sleeves and boxes. It can also work great as a repair tissue due to its wet strength. Last but certainly not the least, washi can also be used for sumi-e and shodo. This is because using sumi can be optimized when on washi paper.

Truly, there are many uses to washi. Aside from decorative purposes, there are many other ways to use washi in one’s daily lives. Furthermore, it is a prime choice for arts and crafts or anything with graphic designs due to its affordable price. Moreover, it is also very accessible with several retailers offering washi products. Because of its many features, many people hoard washi items whenever they visit Japan. It is no wonder why the popularity of washi has grown so much not just locally but globally.