I had the pleasure of visiting Washi no Sato, a papermaking park, near Higashi Chichibu in the Saitama prefecture just outside of Tokyo at the end of April. The staff demonstrates traditional paper-making skills and lets visitors make their own sheet of paper and decorate it with leaves and flowers. They also make large sheets of paper which are fairly heavy and used for wrapping papers. When we visited they weren’t in full production mode, but I got some photos of their equipment and videos of one of their papermakers in action.
The village is located in a beautiful valley with a river running through it – necessary for papermaking sites. Paper made here is from kozo, a plant in the mulberry family which is also found in this area.
The building above is the Hosokawa papermaking house, a reconstruction or restoration of a traditional house that includes a work area for beating, soaking, and sorting the kozo fiber used in paper making. It also has a beautiful thatched roof:
As you enter to the right you see tables used for beating the fiber:
Here's a close up of the beating tools:
A vat for soaking and cleaning the kozo fibers:
It’s quite dark and must have been cold in the winter when this work would have been done. But the hearth was just opposite the soaking vat would have provided warmth. This may have also been used for cooking the fiber but I'm not sure.
The current papermaking area is in an open, modern building which has plenty of room for tours as well as papermaking. This view is from the far end looking toward the entrance.
As you enter you see the natural materials used for making paper with kozo branches from the mulberry tree and to the right the branches partially stripped for their inner bark, the part of the tree used in papermaking.
Close up of the kozo branches both before and after the outer bark layer has been stripped away:
In the bowl is tororo-aoi which is a formation aid used to thicken and condition the water in sheet making:
Outside is a vat for soaking and sun bleaching the kozo fiber:
Inside are two beaters:
Here are two vats with screens:
Extra screens and frames:
Sheet formation - these are stills from a video I shot. Screens are locked into a frame and suspended above the vat with pullies. The papermaker dips the screen in the vat several times. He ripples the water/pulp mixture over the screen repeatedly:
Couching the paper: Next he unlocks the screen from the frame and removes the screen. He then aligns it with the stack and folds the screen down so it is resting on the stack:
Press for removing excess water from a stack of newly formed sheets:
Paper drying on heated metal boards:
Removing paper from the drying boards:
Further drying of sheets of paper:
Samples of the paper for sale in the front of the new workshop:
As additional incentive to visit, there's a restaurant on site that serves delicious soba noodles and tempura. And there must be great trails in this beautiful area, as we rode the bus back into Ogawamachi hikers got on at every stop.
A view of the front of the park:
Logistics: If using public transportation from Tokyo, take the Tobu Tojo Line to the Ogawamachi Station (from Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Station an express is just over an hour). A regularly scheduled local bus goes from Ogawamachi Station out to the papermaking park. I’m not sure how frequently, but there was one waiting when our train came in. There are other buses in front of the train station, so confirm with the driver you’re on the right one.
Other resources on papermaking in Japan:
The classic text on Japanese paper in English is Tim Barrett's Japanese Papermaking: Traditions, Tools, and Techniques. New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1983 (paperback editions are available too).
Various tours of papermaking sites in Japan are offered from time to time by different groups. Hiromi Paper in Santa Monica has offered multi-day washi tours of Japan that sound excellent. Accounts of past tours can be found on their blog: http://hiromipaper.wordpress.com/category/washi-tour/
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