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Washi (和紙) is traditional Japanese paper. The term is used to describe paper that uses local fiber, processed by hand and made in the traditional manner. Washi is made using fibers from the inner bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia chrysantha), or the paper mulberry (kōzo) bush. As a Japanese craft, it is registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
Washi is generally tougher than ordinary paper made from wood pulp, and is used in many traditional arts. Origami, Shodo, and Ukiyo-e were all produced using washi. Washi was also used to make various everyday goods like clothes, household goods, and toys, as well as vestments and ritual objects for Shinto priests and statues of Buddha. It was even used to make wreaths that were given to winners in the 1998 Winter Paralympics. Several kinds of washi, referred to collectively as Japanese tissue, are used in the conservation and mending of books.
Washi is produced in a way similar to that of ordinary paper, but relies heavily on manual methods. It involves a long and intricate process that is often undertaken in the cold weather of winter, as pure, cold running water is essential to the production of washi. Cold inhibits bacteria, preventing the decomposition of the fibres. Cold also makes the fibres contract, producing a crisp feel to the paper. It is traditionally the winter work of farmers, a task that supplemented a farmer's income.
Paper mulberry is the most commonly used fiber in making Japanese paper. The mulberry branches are boiled and stripped of their outer bark, and then dried. The fibers are then boiled with lye to remove the starch, fat and tannin, and then placed in running water to remove the spent lye. The fibers are then bleached (either with chemicals or naturally, by placing it in a protected area of a stream) and any remaining impurities in the fibers are picked out by hand. The product is laid on a rock or board and beaten.
Wet balls of pulp are mixed in a vat with water and a formation aid to help keep the long fibers spread evenly. This is traditionally neri, which is a mucilaginous material made from the roots of the tororo aoi plant, or PEO, polyethylene oxide. One of two traditional methods of paper making (nagashi-zuki or tame-zuki) is employed. In both methods, pulp is scooped onto a screen and shaken to spread the fibers evenly. Nagashi-zuki (which uses neri in the vat) produces a thinner paper, while tame-zuki (which does not use neri) produces a thicker paper.
With enough processing, almost any grass or tree can be made into a washi. Gampi, mitsumata, and paper mulberry are three popular sources.
- Ganpishi (雁皮(0-0)紙) – In ancient times, it was called Hishi (斐紙). Ganpishi has a smooth, shiny surface and is used for books and crafts.
- Kōzogami (楮紙) – Kōzogami is made from paper mulberry and is the most widely made type of washi. It has a toughness closer to cloth than to ordinary paper and does not weaken significantly when treated to be water-resistant.
- Mitsumatagami (三椏紙) – Mitsumatagami has an ivory-colored, fine surface and is used for shodō as well as printing. It was used to print paper money in Meiji period.
Until the early 20th century, the Japanese used washi in applications where Western style paper or other materials are currently used. This is partly because washi was the only type of paper available at that time in Japan, but also because the unique characteristics of washi made it a better material. The different uses of washi include:
- Chiyogami – a method of stenciling or screenprinting paper with traditional Japanese designs
- Ikebana – the art of flower arrangement, also known as kadō
- Inkjet printings
- Kami-ito – pure-fiber washi paper spun into thread
- Katazome – a method of dyeing fabrics using a resist paste
- Mokuhanga – Japanese art of wood printing
- Nihonga – Japanese paintings
- Origami – Japanese art of paper folding
- Shibori – several methods of dyeing cloth with a pattern
- Shifu – washi that has been spun into yarn (kami-ito) and woven into cloth
- Shodo – Japanese art of calligraphy
- Sumi-e – Japanese art of Ink wash painting
- Suminagashi – Japanese art of paper marbling
- Ukiyo-e – a genre of Japanese woodblock prints
- Washi eggs – covering eggs with washi paper
- Chigiri-e – using Washi for "painting" pictures
- Bento box
- Harae-Gushi, the washi whisk used for ritual purification by Shinto priests
- Japanese banknotes
- Loudspeaker cones
- Ofuda for Shinto
- Scale models
- Fukushima, Kurio (1991). Handbook on the Art of Washi. All Japan Handmade Washi Association.
- Hughes, Sukey (1978). Washi: the world of Japanese paper. Tokyo: Kodansha International. ISBN 0-87011-318-6.
- "Government, paper makers welcome addition of 'washi' to UNESCO list". 27 November 2014.[dead link]
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