22 Jun 2017 in So Design
It's used in Japanese art, furniture, clothes and wallpaper. But what exactly is washi – and how is it made?
Washi literally means “Japanese paper”. More specifically, it’s a type of high-grade paper hand-made using traditional methods – and highly prized for its exceptional quality.
If you visit Japan, you’re likely to come across washi without realizing it. It’s used in shoji screens, lampshades and book covers, kites and origami – and even in wallpaper. Such is its cultural importance that washi has earned a place in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Today, traditional washi-making is increasingly rare, but a number of small producers still exist. One such company is Fukuda Seishi in mountainous Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo. If you stay at Hoshino Resorts KAI Kawaji, you’ll have a chance to see the company’s traditional methods in a demonstration at your hotel. You’ll even be able to try your hand at creating your own washi!
So, how is washi made? The raw material usually comes from the kozo, a type of mulberry bush. First, the inner bark is removed, boiled and pounded to loosen the individual fibres. Next, the pounded fibre is added to a large quantity of water and a glue made from the roots of tororo-aoi (sunset hibiscus). To form a sheet of washi paper, you scoop up this solution on a sieve frame and carefully drain it, leaving it to dry overnight.
It may sound like a lot of effort, but washi paper is unlike any other. The way the fibres bind make it stronger, more flexible, more absorbent and lighter than standard paper. And that’s precisely why it can be used in so many ways – and what makes it’s so special to Japanese culture.