Making Washi in Ogawamachi

My obsession with washi paper continues, and so when the opportunity to learn how washi paper is made presented itself, I jumped at the chance.

I took the train to the town of Ogawamachi, which is about an hour outside of Tokyo.  It was interesting how fast the big city quickly turned into beautiful countryside as the train  rolled along.  This town has been a washi center since the Edo Period, which began in the early 1600s!  My guide for the day was the lovely Yuriko-san, who performed the incredible tea ceremony I shared with you here.

To make washi, you start with the bark of a gampi tree and a mitsumata shrub and soak them for some time.  As the plants are soaked, they soften and separate into long fibers.

Next, the fibers are ground to a pulp in this machine.

And then the pulp is soaked again into this contraption, where its strained in trays sized to the paper ordered.

And then the remaining pulp is pressed tightly against bamboo

 and what remains is a sheet of washi paper!

This particular order was for an artist who makes wood block prints so it was a thicker, stronger blend of paper.

After we learned how to make paper, it was time for us to create our own washi designs.  First we took a walk outside to collect the varieties of leaves and flowers the staff recommended to us.

It might look all pretty and sunny in this picture but in reality, it was snapped seconds before the wind started to howl and huge rains came!

We went inside and each chose our paper sizes and molds and then made our own paper.  Don’t I look like I actually know what I’m doing? 😉

And then the washi was flipped out of the molds and I set to work separating each petal and leaf from my basket {the natural objects need to be as thin as possible in order to be pressed into the paper so you can’t use the flowers whole}.

Here’s the design I created.

And here’s what the panels look like several days later after being pressed again and completely dried, and are now hanging in my powder room.  Isn’t it interesting how much the color faded in the drying process?

I’m still very partial to the vivid patterns and intricate designs of modern-day washi paper, but this was a fascinating look into the origins of the process.  And I’m thrilled we didn’t have to experience it in the throes of winter, soaking the fibers in pure, cold river water, as the townspeople did as recently as twenty years ago.

I’m too much of a wimp for that!

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4 Responses to Making Washi in Ogawamachi

  1. msumissa says:

    You have a fantastic eye for design. Beautiful job. Wonderful layout. A+ student!

  2. Laura says:

    Beautiful washi paper you made. What a great opportunity to try something new!

  3. I have never heard of this paper. What an interesting day you must have had. I am blown away by the end result, something to really treasure.

  4. Chris says:

    I love it 🙂 good job!!

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