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Try Your Hand at Making a Sheet of the Same Paper Used at the Louvre

The handmade washi paper of Yoshino is a product of the pure waters and climate of area.

“Kuzu no Sato” is known as an ancient town of Yoshino in Nara prefecture. There is something familiar and nostalgic about the sight of the traditional homes, which seem to protect the purity of the waters they surround, perhaps because the quiet spirit of this ancient land is still very much alive.

Also known as one of the birthplaces of Japanese craftsmanship, the history of Yoshino’s handmade washi paper reaches 1,300 years into the past. There is even a legend that Prince Oama, who later became the Emperor Tenmu, taught the making of paper when he visited this land.

This could have been because the environment of Yoshino is perfect for paper making, a process that requires the bark of the “kouzo” mulberry tree, used as a raw material, to be exposed to crystal-clear water in mid-winter.

Today, several workshops here carry on the tradition, and Masayuki Fukunishi , sixth generation washi maker at Fukunishi Washi Honpo, one of those workshops, does so with great devotion for his craft.

This is the real Yoshino washi

Fukunishi explains, “We have changed nothing since the old days. In order to make real washi, you have to use the original methods.”

The washi paper at Fukunishi Washi Honpo is made with a degree of time and effort that would be unthinkable in any other modern industry.

The process for creating the raw material for this genuine traditional craft begins with the harvesting of the kouzo trees followed by more than ten other steps such as steaming the raw wood, soaking it in pure water, and drying it under the sun. The resulting fiber is then formed into sheets by hand, which are dried under the sun to complete the paper.

It goes without saying that all the ingredients used in the process are natural. Even the paste used is made from bark, and the paper is pigmented using plant based dyes. Incidentally, during the photo shoot for this article, the paper was being dyed pink using a dye made by boiling the bark of the cherry tree.

The most difficult part of the overall process, where each craftsman shows their true skill, is creating paper with a uniform thickness. Because the paper sheets are formed by hand, no more than 200 sheets can be made in one day.

Washi paper is both beautiful and durable

The washi paper is created with attention to detail that brooks no compromise. While the primary application of this washi paper is its use in mounting calligraphy and other brush work, such as backing for hanging scrolls, it is also used in the repair of national treasures and important cultural assets. It is even said to be used reverently at the Louvre and the British Museum.

Each sheet of paper created by this family of craftsmen is inspected by the mother, whose eyes sparkle with the light of a true connoisseur, before being shipped to the four corners of the world.

The paper is also recently seeing increased use in interior design.

The price is actually reasonable at 300 Yen per sheet for a white sheet sized for hanging scrolls, while sheets colored with plant dyes start at 1,500 Yen, so we recommend using the paper to add accent to your room.

We also insist you try your hand at creating a sheet of washi paper yourself.

It is said that the students at the Yoshino Elementary School each create the paper used in their graduation certificate.

A smaller wood frame is used for the washi paper making class given at the workshop, with which participants can make 8 sheets of postcard sized paper or one sheet of certificate sized paper. Why not design your own original paper using plant dyes for coloration, and perhaps even using flowers or leaves as decoration.

Classes are 1,500 per person, and groups of ten or more people require a reservation one week in advance.

INFORMATION

Fukunishi Washi Honpo
Address
218-1 Kubogaito, Yoshino-gun Yoshino-cho, Nara
Contact
+81-(0)746-36-6513

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