Though it looks delicate, it’s actually strong and durable. I feel that a lot of Japanese handcrafts that I study share that trait. One such, yatsuo-washi, has been handed down through generations in Yatsuomachi, Toyama, in the Hokuriku region of Japan. I visited Keijusha, a studio that’s been making handmade washi paper since 1960, and inside saw seat cushions constructed entirely of washi! Amazingly, they’d been in use for five years running, and remained completely solid and intact, and functional.
“Yatsuo-washi paper had been in use for everyday applications in bygone days, things such as stationery, covering for paper sliding doors, and for use by the old-time apothecaries of the region, who’d package their medicines in it. We still adhere strictly to the old manufacturing methods at the studio,” said studio director Mr. Yasuki Yoshida. His predecessor had a close relationship with Mr. Keisuke Serizawa, renowned master of the dyeing craft, and regarded as one of Japan’s “living national treasures”. Following Serizawa’s influence, the studio developed katazome washi, applying the traditional stencil-dyeing process to handmade washi the studio produced. To this day they do everything by hand, from making the paper material, to the dyes and dyeing process, to making everyday items from the resulting washi.
This day I visited the paper-making workshop. Washi was being produced in a cold water bath from fiber made from a variety of mulberry tree, and with the root of a plant called tororo-aoi, which provides abundant starch for cohesion. When dried, konnyaku nori, a liquified form of the konjac root, is slathered on, and the resulting material is wrung tightly by hand, giving it a wrinkled texture.