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Japanese Traditional Craft Resource Center Category


Japanese Traditional Craft

Craft Category Papermaking
Name Kurotani Washi: Kurotani Japanese paper

Main Production Site:Kyoto

The pure washi (hand-made Japanese paper) manufactured by traditional methods which have a history of a thousand years is not only beautiful but also resistant to humidity and breathable.

Moreover, because washi does not easily deteriorate, it is not so unusual for handmade Japanese papers to last more than 1000 years. Its fibers are so long that it is resistant to tear even if the paper is folded many times.

Papermaking in Kurotani makes good use of clear water of Kurotani River where you can see the reminiscence of the old papermaking village and the nature.

The beauty of pure white paper drying on the boards co-existed with the warm relationships between people and nature. Love and strength of people who have lived with Kurotani Washi enabled these methods to survive the changes over a long time.

Nowadays, Kurotani Washi is designated as an intangible cultural property of Kyoto prefecture.

[An intangible cultural property of Kyoto Prefecture]
Information provided by: Kurotani Washi Kyodokumiai 
Translation by: Satomi Hirasawa Yamashita, reviewed by Moe Shoji

Materials Kozo (paper mulberry)
Crafting Processes 【1】 Growing kozo
Washi can be made with mitsumata, ganpi and so on, but Kurotani Washi is mainly made of kozo (Kozo is called ‘kago’ in Kurotani).
They grow seedlings of kozo and transfer them to the field in the autumn of the year or the following spring so that they would grow into mature trees. In the following autumn, they will grow into a size that is tall enough to be harvested. Only 5 % of all the trees is used as the materials for Kurotani Washi.

【2】 Harvesting kozo
In the season of frost and falling leaves, kozo trees are harvested before it snows.

【3】 Cutting kozo into small pieces
Kozo trees are cut into a certain length, disbranched and made into 20 kg bundles.

【4】 Steaming kozo
In order to make it easy to strip the outer bark off, kozo branches are tipped into a big tub called “koshiki” and placed on a big pot with boiling water to steam.

【5】 Peeling off the barks of kozo
While steamed kozo branches are still hot, the barks are stripped off, dried well and kept safe. These barks are made into paper.

【6】 Rubbing kozo
Dried black barks are soaked in the river for about a day, and rubbed with the feet to soften and make it easy to shave the bark. In the past, even in the cold weather, people used to go into the river barefoot.

【7】 Trimming kozo
Epidermis and the damaged parts are removed from the bark with a little knife, and only high-quality white bark is kept. In order to make beautiful paper, this process may take almost the half of the entire processes. White kozo branches are washed in the river and dried. In winter, they are exposed to the snow and the sun.

【8】 Nigoshirae (Preparation for boiling kozo)
Before boiling kozo, kozo barks are soaked in the river once again
for about two days and nights to make them soft.
This process made the white bark even more beautiful.

【9】 Boiling kozo
Bundles of kozo are loosened into a large pot with boiling water and soda ash, and boiled. After boiling them at high heat for almost an hour, they are stirred and boiled for another hour. The heat is then turned off and the bark is left to steam in the pot for 30 minutes to an hour.
For manufacturing high-quality paper, charcoal is traditionally used to heat the water.

【10】Kozo midashi (Removing dusts)
Now softened kozo is washed in limpid water to remove ash scum and little dusts.

【11】 Beating paper
Beating kozo fibers to unstiffen them.
This process is done by hand for the special kind of papers. Normally, the fiber is beaten with a powered mortar for about an hour and softened further with a beater into a cotton-like state. Once the water is drained, you will have “kamisu”, the raw material for paper.

【12】 Sanategi (Washing and straining)
Wash the roots of tororoaoi (hibiscus manihot, a plant used as mucilaginous agent) in the water to make adhesive paste. The roots are battered on the flat stone with a wooden hammer and strained with a cloth bag.

【13】 Kamisuki (Papermaking)
Fill the half of the vessel called “sukifune” with water and putting a pailful of “kamisu” (liquid with paper fibers) into the sukifune. Disentangle fibers with “maguwa” (a comb-like tool made of bamboo), add the glue and stir with “mazebai” (a thin bamboo stick).
Sandwich “su” (a screen made of slim bamboos) between the wooden frames named “keta”, scoop the clear upper water of sukifune with su, pour off the water forward.
Next, submerge the screen a little more deeply, scooping the water. Move the screen back and forth, pouring off the water in a good rhythm. Repeat this process. Stack up the sheets of paper one after another on a board and remove them from su. On the following day, place another board on the top of it to press them to drain.

【14】 Drying paper
Stick the sheets of paper on drying boards one by one with a brush, dry them under the sun.

【15】 Kami koshirae (Selection, counting and trimming)
Select the papers, count the number of them and trim them.
History It is said that defeated soldiers of the Heike Clan (in the end of the Heian period, 12c) began to manufacture Kurotani Washi and handed down as the technique to their posterity.
In the Edo period (17-19c), Kurotani became the territory of the hatamoto (the direct retainer of the shogun). As the culture and the industry developed, kamikaisho (trading office for the paper) was built and various incentives led the craft to develop further. A large volume of paper was made for the use in connection with Kimono industry in Kyoto, tatougami(wrapping paper for storing kimono), price tags, shibufuda (persimmon tannin-coated name / work instruction tags tied to each part of unsewn kimono for cleaning, repairing or redyeing, which are very durable to resist all processes) and so on, due to the village’s close proximity to the old capital.

In line with developments in silkworm farming since the Meiji period (19-20c), a variety of paper for the industry started to be made and the demand increased. However, the papermaking in Kurotani experienced hardship with the passage of time, and the food shortage caused by World War II dramatically reduced the production kozo because the food production was prioritized. Until then, kozo was considered as one of the four most important industrial plants along with mulberry, green tea and lacquer. Because of the change in use of paper and lifestyle, the paper industry across Japan has also changed dramatically. Japanese paper is replaced by western paper, and hand-made processes are taken over by automated manufacture.

Kurotani has remained true to its hand-made heritage, preserving the craft from the old time. Kurotani has forged a name for itself around the world as the home of this very valuable and pure hand-made Japanese paper.
Related URL https://kurotaniwashi.kyoto/

◆Exhibition / Showcase
Washi Kaikan in Kurotani Washi Kyodokumiai
Hours: 9:00 - 16:30
Closed: Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays
Kurotani Town, Ayabe City, Kyoto 623-0108
TEL&FAX: +81-(0)773-44-0213
(Japanese only)

◆Event Information
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