The paper used for a census preserved at Shosoin Repository is thought to be Japan’s oldest paper. They are thought to have been made in Mino, Chikuzen and Buzen; thereby it is thought that a history of paper making in the Mino dates back to the Nara period (710-794).
Genuine Mino Paper is made from a superior grade of paper mulberry grown only in Ibaraki Prefecture. It is characterized by its traditional hand filtering method, not only by vertical shaking but also by horizontal shaking, by which all the fibers “knit” together leaving no evidence of the forming process on the surface.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), it was very popular especially for the sliding door of the traditional house. Its uniformly excellent quality was ideal for translucent paper screens.
Genuine Mino Paper is now used for sliding doors, documents that need to be preserved and conservation of cultural properties. Its high quality and depth of flavor attracts a lot of users. In 1976, the techniques of making Genuine Mino Paper were designated as Important Intangible Cultural Property. As the holders of this traditional technique, the members of the Genuine Mino Paper Preservation Association are making efforts to hand down their skills to the next generation.
Ichibee Iwano was born in 1933 in Imadate in Fukui Prefecture. He is known as the son of the 8th Iwano Ichibee, who was designated a Living National Treasure for his work making washi (Japanese paper) in Echizen.
His son, the 9th Ichibee Iwano, was also designated a Living National Treasure in 2002. The paper he crafted was beloved by many artists, such as Picasso. He inherited his temperament for this work from the 8th and, for 60 years, worked hard to make the best washi.
Ichibee Iwano's paper is stiff, and is not easily torn. Its thickness prevents the paper from blotting. He also created an extremely thin paper for publishing reprints of Katsushika Hokusai's woodblock prints. To print these, it is necessary to rub the back of the paper with a special burnishing implement called a baren a few hundred times. To be sure, it is difficult to make a thin paper that withstands these rubbings. However, the 9th smiles and asserts that 'The harder it is, the better it is.' The spirit of craftsmanship may even exceed that of his father.
Yoshino handmade Japanese paper (washi) is a traditional handicraft, and representative of Nara. It is sometimes called uda paper, misu paper or kuzu paper, and is known for its outstanding texture and strength. It is also designated as a traditional handicraft of Nara.
The history of washi dates back more than 1300 years and is said to have been begun by Oamano-oji (later Emperor Temmu) who taught the village people of Kuzu the art of papermaking. Oamano-oji is also known for gathering an army and fighting at Yoshino during the Jinshin rebellion in 672.
Yoshino paper began to spread nationwide in the Edo period. The paper was named uda paper because merchants from Daiwa Uda-cho sold it throughout Japan, and it was found useful for mounting or backing paper or fabric.
The handmade paper of Yoshino is very thin, yet sturdy. There are currently 12 families who still protect the tradition and techniques of papermaking here, and who make an important contribution to the making of paper for shodo sliding doors and for repairing national treasures.
Ecchu district, which is rich in high-quality water from the foot of the Northern Japanese Alps, has long been a production area of washi paper.
Ecchu washi is tough and flexible, and is used for many products from sliding paper doors and writing paper to paper lanterns, works of calligraphy and paintings, as well as prints and more than 100 kinds of dyed papers.
There is reference to Echhu washi in the Shosoin records, dating to the Nara period. Moreover, the Engishiki records from the Heian period mention that people paid their taxes using washi. Therefore, we can conclude that Ecchu washi has a long history.
Today, around Japan, there are many young people carrying on the traditions of Japanese paper, not only making dyed paper and classical washi using mulberry fiber, but developing new forms of paper handicraft, paper processed goods and souvenirs.
From the Genroku Era of the Edo period, high-quality 'washi' papermaking flourished in Ecchu Yao, where clear spring water bubbles up from the foot of the mountains. Yao washi was durable and elastic, becoming the paper of choice for packaging medicine and ointment by doctors. Even now, the paper is used in many areas, with processed goods including wallets and bags.
Keijusha paper mill has protected the traditions of Yao washi over many years. Inside the mill is a small washi museum called 'Washi Library', which introduces paper not only from Japan, but all over the world as objects of craftwork. The museum's four sections exhibit papyrus from 1000 B.C., paper-production methods, old hand-copied Japanese sutras, late-Edo period daily commodities made from washi, on so on.
The actual paper mill is built right next to the museum, where visitors can watch and take part in making washi.
Ainokura Village is situated between Toyama and Gifu prefectures. It is believed that fleeing Heike warriors settled here in the past. Back then, there were about 30 private houses and about 80 people lived here.
Gassho houses, featuring steep, high-thatched roofs, are typical of areas with very heavy snowfall, such as Shirakawa-Go and Gokayama. The space under the vast roofs is ideal for raising silkworks. When rice was not being grown or harvested, the people traditionally used the top floor of these houses for sericulture, smoke-curing, or paper production as further means to make a living.
Most of today's houses date back to the Edo and Meiji periods. The earliest one was built in the 17th century. The beech trees covering the mountainsides, the ricefields and stone walls around the village make a magnificent scene.
Gokayama was designated a National Cultural Asset in 1994 and in 1995 was chosen as a World Heritage Site.
Kyoto shikishitanzaku-wahonjo is a traditional Japanese colored paper that came to be used for writing haiku and waka poetry. This paper was first made 1000 years ago. Colored paper is also known as 'dyed paper'.
Poetry became popular during the Heian period. Some of these poems would be written on dyed colored paper for an added decorative effect. Many sheets of paper were magnificently made using the techniques of Deie, Kirihaku and Noge.
Present-day designs were developed in the Kamakura period. In the Muromachi period, color stripped paper became popular, and the Kano and Tosa schools liked to inlay pictures in them. Later, this paper was used as cherry blossom-viewing picnic notepad paper for the Emperor Go-Komatsu and for Hokodaigo.
Nowadays,much of the demand for this paper is due to the popularity of calligraphy, waka and haiku poetry. As a result, the industry is struggling to foster successors and acquire high-quality paper.
Since early times, Kurotani (today's Ayabe district, in Kyoto prefecture) has been blessed with paper-mulberry plants and the pure waters of the Kurotani River, both of which are essential for the production of Japan's famous paper ('washi').
Kurotani washi has been manufactured for a thousand years since the Heian period. It is believed that fleeing Heike warriors invented the paper, bequeathing the tradition to future generations.
During the Edo period, Kurotani washi was recognized for its quality and evolved as a cultural artefact as well as a cottage industry. As a result, many factories were established and flourished. Later in the Edo period, sericulture prospered and the demand for paper using silk threads increased.
In the Showa period, with the development of machine-based technologies and the widespread use of Western papers, the demand for washi diminished. Today, Kurotani is known worldwide for its paper.