home > articles > washi

Washi: Japanese handmade paper

A very informative book on washi is A Handbook on the Art of Washi: A Collection of Questions and Answers. It's copyrighted by the All Japan Handmade Washi Association (the name seems a little redundant to me), of which Mr. Chosuke Taki is the chairman. Unfortunately, there is no ISBN, but it is published Wagami-do K.K. ("K.K." is the equivalent of "Inc." in Japan). Their contact information is as follows:

Mr. Shohei Asano
6-33-4 Hakusan Bunkyo-ku,
Tokyo 112
Tel: 03-3813-7117
Fax: 03-3813-8299

I'm sure that, given this info, any Japanese bookstore could get a copy of this book for you. Hiromi Paper International has told me that they carry this book.

The questions asked, and answered, in this book cover descriptions of washi ("The Secret of Its Beauty"), explanations of washi-making techniques ("Handmaking in Practice, Form and Color"), its history ("Origin and Present Situation"), its applicability ("Its Various Uses"), and its regional differences ("Production Areas and Characteristics"). Here, I'm going to reproduce the glossary of the book so that you will understand better what all of these washi terms mean, and therefore will be able to use them to discuss washi in an intelligent manner.

Note that I've taken the liberty of correcting some of the grammatical and spelling mistakes made in translation from the Japanese.

Washi Glossary

General Terms

Tesuki Washi
Handmade Japanese paper ["real" washi --JW].
Kikaizuki Washi
Machine-made Japanese paper.
Machine-made Western paper.

Main Raw Materials for Washi

Broussoneitia kazinoki Sieb., family Moraceae. A general term for a variety of papermaking mulberries that are characterized by strong, sinewy, and long fibres.
Edgeworthia papyrifera Sieb. et Zucc., family Thymelaeaceae. Characterized by fine-grained, soft, pliant, and lustrous fibres.
Diplomorpha sikokiana Nakai, family Thymelaeaceae. Harvested February to May when water content is high. Characterized by fine and glossy fibre.
Sophora augustiflora Sieb. et Zucc. Perennial herbaceous plant of the lupinus family. Fibre taken from the bark of the stems.
Cannabis sativa L. Hemp. [Not that commonly used, so donít start smoking your washi to get high! --JW]


[Mucilages are used to help keep the paper fibres evenly suspended in the water during papermaking. --JW]

General term for the various kinds of vegetable mucilage used in washi, such as that extracted from the tororo-aoi root.
Hibiscus manihot L. Medic. Annual herbaceous plant of the genus Abelmoschus of the Malvaceae family. A relative of okra, its roots are harvested between November and early December and crushed to make neri mucilage.
Hydrangea paniculata Sieb. A deciduous tree of the Saxifragaceae family that grows to a height of 6-10 feet. The Inner bark is used to make neri mucilage.

Washi-producing Methods

"Accumulation papermaking". Literally, "fibre settling papermaking method". Tame means "to save", "to amass," or "to accumulate", and, in that sense, "to settle". Suki or zuki means the action to make paper. The ancient, original technique of scooping fibres in which sheets are formed quickly without the use of mucilage by allowing the pulp stock to drain through the screen. In other words, tamezuki is done by putting the right amount of material into the mold and allowing the solution to filtre through while spreading it evenly.
"Discharge papermaking". Literally, "fibre flow papermaking method". Nagasu is the verb meaning "to let flow or run". This papermaking method, peculiar to Japan, is characterized by ejecting excess pulp stock from the mold made possible by the use of neri. In other words, nagashizuki is done by repeatedly filling the mold and keeping the solution moving until one tosses out the final amount.

Tools Used To Make Washi

Wooden frame that holds the screen.
Flexible screen, usually bamboo but sometimes miscanthus, that acts as a sieve or strainer upon which the paper sheet is formed.
Papermaking mold: a combination of su (screen) and keta (frame).
Fine screen, usually silk gauze. Placed on top of a su to produce fine, thin paper.
To make paper. As a prefix, the same character is read as suki, and, as a suffix, it is read as -zuki.

Other Special Words

Sizing solution made from animal glue and alum.
Literally, "paper bed or floor". A stack of wet sheets of washi.
Chinese white or lime white. Incinerated shell powder.
"Black bark" which has not been cleaned of its outer black layer.
"White bark". The inner bark after being cleaned of its outer black layer.

Washi Products

Literally, "sandlewood paper". Originated in the Nara period (AD 710-794) and still used as high grade wrapping paper, or for ceremonial rites. This is a kozo paper, thick, elegant, and white, which ladies of the court preferred for writing poems during the Heian period (AD 794-1192). It was also called michinoikugami which is synonymous with danshi. The present danshi is furrowed or creped, but this is a comparatively new development.
Literally, "tag paper". Thick, water-resistant tag paper is used for labeling fabrics during dyeing. It is coated with persimmon tannin to make it waterproof.
Thick paper used for the surface of fusuma (sliding panels).
Originally a calligraphy writing and India ink drawing paper imported from China during the Edo period (1603-1867). There were attempts to make Chinese-style gasenshi which is characterized by subtle blurring of ink and a smooth brush touch. In mitsumata paper-producing areas, bamboo, straw, and wood pulp were mixed to make such papers as inshu gasenshi (from Tottori) and koshu gasenshi (from Yamanashi). These were called wagasenshi (the wa-prefix refers to things Japanese) in contrast to the imported gasenshi. The standard size is 72.7 ◊ 136.4 cm.
Literally, "interleaf paper for foil". A 100% mitsumata paper that is used for packaging and preserving gold and silver foil.
Literally, "foil-beating paper". When beating out gold or silver foil, a small piece of metal is placed between sheets of hakuuchishi and beaten. A special clay is used in this gampi paper. Nashio (Hyogo) has been famous for its production from ancient times. It is also made in Kanazawa (Ishikawa).
"Half-size sheet", originally half the size of old sugihaarashi (25 ◊ 35 cm). A paper of many uses as it is durable, thin, light, and inexpensive. used for calligraphy writing, account books, etc. Sekishu (from Shimane) and suruga (from Shizuoka) hanshi have been famous since ancient times. Now, mozo (imitation) and kairyo (improved) hanshi made from wood pulp and a mixture of other materials are produced. Standard sizes are 24Ė26 ◊ 32.5Ė35 cm.
The name is derived from the locality of production in Tochigi where papermakers still exist. The Karasuyama clan encouraged production of this kozo paper and, together with the nishinouchishi produced by the neighbouring Mito clan, it gained a high reputation. It is a little thicker than nishinouchishi and is an old style tamezuki paper (but is formed using neri). Used for printing books.
A high grade kozo paper. The original purpose of this paper was for secretaries or government authorities to write the oral commands of the Shogun in his name for him to sign and to affix his official seal. In the middle ages, this paper originated in Echizen (Fukui) and, especially in the Edo period (1603-1867), it was extensively used as official document paper. The reputation of Echizen Hosho is high and it currently remains in use as wood-block print paper. The standard size is 39.4 ◊ 53 cm.
A catch-all name for kozo washi produced in Ogawa-cho, Saitama, for permanent records, accounts, etc. Originally, a kozo paper similar to Sugiharashi made in Hosokawa (Hyogo) was brought to Edo, and, as the papermaking centre of Edo was Ogawa, the technique of the two papers were combined to make hosokawashi.
Literally, "pocket paper". A general term for paper used in the tea ceremony which is tucked in the front of the kimono. Used to clean the fingers after wiping the tea bowl, or used as a plate for cakes or sweets served during the ceremony. Kurasuyama kaishi is famous and is used by the Imperial household.
Literally, "Chinese paper". Patterned writing paper introduced from China.
Literally, "paper clothing". The kozo paper is treated with persimmon tannin and, after drying, it is crumpled thoroughly, and then smoothed and tailored into wearable apparel.
Thick, durable paper cut into stencils. Ise katagami is a stencil design cut in Ise. However, the base kozo or mitsumata paper is from Hiroshima or Gifu.
Kinshi Ginshi Yoshi
One hundred percent mitsumata paper that is cut and twisted into yarn. The yarn is coated with gold or silver and used in Nishijin (Kyoto) brocade. [Kin is gold, gin is silver, and shi is paper. --JW]
Originally, a paper often used as a utility wrapper by women for wrapping or kaishi. It was decorated with a pretty design. The scope of application gradually developed from a small-sized sheet to such large-sized paper as panel paper with patterns designed in the wet sheet. Also called art paper.
A paper with a cloud design. Used for long, narrow tanzaku and square shikishi poetry cards. A decorating technique of overlaying dyed fibres in a cloud design on the top and bottom part of the wet sheet. There are many variations of the technique.
Literally, "bureau paper". In 1874, the Papermaking Dept., Printing Bureau, Ministry of Finance, was established and efforts were made to make a unique Japanese-style paper. In 1878, this paper was exhibited at eh Paris Exposition and was widely acclaimed. A thick mitsumata paper, smooth, it is strongly pliant with sharp reproduction printability.
A gampi paper originating in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). The name is derived from the fact that it can be pasted without any joint for half the width (90 cm) of a sliding panel. Literally, it means "paper meeting requirements" or "paper serving the purpose". It is used for sliding panel paper and backing paper for mounting. It is represented by Echizen Torinoko and Nashio paper using pulverized clay, and is a good example of development into a different grade of paper.
(c.f. danshi) Literally, "paper from northern Japan". Its name often appears in books of lady authors of the Heian period (794-1192) together with paper made by Shioku-In (Kyoto government paper mill, established 806-810). It is a kozo paper synonymous with danshi. Used for ceremonial purposes such as writing, wrapping gifts, etc.
Wall paper pasted above a height of 60 cm from the floor on the lower part of the wall. [I donít understand this one! --JW] Pasted on the wall to support it firmly. Exclusively used for tea ceremony houses.
One of the oldest and most popular of a number of plain kozo papers originally made in Mino, Gifu. Minogami family registers dated 702 still remain in Shoso-In which attests to its old history. The old minogami standard sized, called minoban, was 33 ◊ 24.3 cm. Today, minogami means a kozo paper for stationery, books, or shojigami (sliding door paper).
The history of this name is unknown. It is a thin kozo paper used for mounting. At present, it is made in Yoshino-cho, Nara. Pigment powder derived from incinerated clam shells is mixed with kozo pulp and the paper is made in a small-sized papermaking mould. The characteristic of this paper is that it is immediately taken off the screen and dried on the drying board so that it becomes a soft and mature paper.
Thick, high-quality kozo paper often treated with the root of konnyaku (devilís tongue) and crumpled, rubbed, and stretched. used for kamiko (paper clothing).
A special kozo paper encouraged by the Mito clan. Its name is derived from the locale of production, Nishinouchi, Ibaragi. There are still papermakers there using the superior nasu kozo. The paper has a wide use and was famous as ballot paper during the Meiji period (1867-1929).
Ramon originally meant a thin silk textile. Ramonshi is a decorated paper where dyed fibre (gampi, etc.) is twilled and overlaid on the entire surface of the paper resembling the woven textile of ramon. This paper existed during the Heian period (710-794) but this gorgeous technique died out later and attempts to revive this paper continue.
During the Edo period (1603-1867), a ledger cleanly rewritten was called seicho. Therefore, a high grade kozo paper for preserving such records came to be called seichoshi. It was extensively made in Tosa (Kochi) and in western Japan. At present, it is still produced in Agawa, Kochi.
During the Tensho years (1573-1592), the priest Senka devised this kozo paper at the Anraku temple and the Uwajima clan encouraged production which flourished greatly. This strong and thick paper is made by scooping the stock onto both fine mesh and large mesh screens and then joining the two sheets into one thick sheet. It is used as cover paper for books and is still being made in Ehime and Kochi.
A drawing paper praised by writers and artists from ancient times. Its soft and gentle blurring effect has no comparison. The raw material used is a mixture of fibres from the Chinese spindletree bark and rice straw.
Literally, "paper cloth". It is a 100% kozo paper, soft and strong. The paper is cut and twisted into threads which are then woven into paper cloth.
Traditional sliding door paper. Shoji is the latticed sliding door. This paper is pasted over the lattice work and the assembly is used as panels. It permits light into the room while retaining the warmth. The standard size is 63.6 ◊ 93.9 cm. This paper is a kozo paper produced in various areas of Japan. The highest class of shojigami is the shoingami. With the development of Japanese-style architecture for temples and samurai domiciles, the shoin (study room) was established and the highest class paper for the sliding door was used for this room.
This name is derived from Sugihara-mura (Hyogo) at the end of the Heian period (794- 1192). It is a kozo paper representing the middle ages, and samurai and priests often used this paper as gifts on formal occasions. This paper was not as thick as danshi and its simplicity was favoured particularly by the samurai class. During the Edo period (1603-1867), it also became popular among the common people.
Sukigata Moyooshi
These are elegantly designed papers that are processed while still in a moist state to created a design or pattern. Originally, it was used to write poetry or to copy sutras. These ornate papers are still produced today with more new designs and patterns.
Recycled paper. Paper that was insufficiently de-inked was called "light inked paper" or "water clouded paper". Included in this category was kankonshi ("paper recalling the lost soul") which was paper recycled from letters of the deceased, and recycled paper for daily use.
In the middle ages, an extremely thin kozo paper that originated in Mino (Gifu). The origin of the name is unknown. This paper is made with the most sophisticated papermaking techniques. It is used for artistsí tracing paper, block copy for wood-block prints, and backing paper. After the Meiji period (1867-1912), it was used for industrial papers such as typewriter paper, and was made extensively in Mino (Gifu) and Tosa (Kochi). It is still being made in Kochi. Much of this paper is exported overseas where it is favoured for wrapping material for precious stones, jewelry, and pieces of fine art.
A gampi paper, which appeared in the middle ages, was made primarily in Echizen (Fukui). Torinoko literally means "child of the bird or egg" and it must have been derived from the unbleached colour of the paper that resembled the colour of a light yellow birdís egg. It is used for stationery and cards, art printing, sliding panel paper, and semi-official documents.
This is a decorative technique in which calligraphy paper is overlaid with dyed fibres lying like a stretch of clouds on the upper and lower edge of the paper. There are such varieties as blue clouds, purple clouds, and blue and purple clouds. The overlay fibre is now gampi, but kozo fibres were used in the past. There is also a technique which is used to express stormy water movement.
The name is derived from Uda-gun, Nara. This paper is used for mounting, and is a rather thick kozo paper containing a local clay. The clay gives softness to the paper and prevents stretching or shrinking.
A thin kozo paper made in Nara which is most suitable for lacquer filtration.

news | illustration | gallery | instructions | articles | links

copyright © 1994-2017 joseph wu origami inc. > contact joseph

This page was last modified on
Friday, June 14th, 2002 [15:32:52 PDT]