The word washi is made up of wa (和), "Japanese", and shi (紙), "paper". It therefore refers to Japanese paper made by hand according to the traditional method, derived from ancient Chinese art. Washi paper boasts over 1000 years of history and is produced using only specific materials and methods of the various production locations. For this reason, by slightly changing the production methods from one location to another, the characteristics with respect to the original paper model also vary accordingly. Traditionally it is produced using vegetable fibers from local plants such as Broussonetia papyrifera (KOZO), Edgeworthia chrysantha (MITSUMATA) and Diplomorpha sikokiana (GAMPI). According to Japanese culture, the first plant represents the male element with robust fibers, the second the delicate and soft female one and the third the noble, rich and long-lived one. Bamboo, hemp, rice and wheat fibers can also be used which give different characteristics to the paper.
What kind of paper is it?
The origin of washi paper comes from China, it was a very luxurious product, but not very robust and long lasting. After several attempts and improvements of its characteristics, an original way of producing washi paper was defined in Japan. During the Heian era (794-1185 AD) it was used in the imperial court, The Muromachi era (1336-1573 AD) also saw its use in architecture and during the Edo era (1603-1868 AD) ) its use was cleared through customs to various social classes.
Particular characteristics are durability, strength, softness and production methods, which gives various types of textures, thicknesses and shine. Since November 2014 it has been included among the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.
How is it produced?
The main characteristics of washi paper derive from the particular production process. By using a sieve frame, by making water flow inside, it is possible to stratify the fibers several times, in order to increase their resistance. The manufacturing process is therefore linked to an ancient ritual, which has been handed down for countless years.
What are the materials?
According to the Japanese tradition, the main materials are "water", "first ingredient" and "mucilage". The water must be pure and cold, generally from a spring or river. The first ingredient uses deciduous shrub plants, especially KOZO, MITSUMATA or GAMPI, all plants that have very long, strong and shiny fibers. According to Japanese culture, the first represents the masculine element with robust fibers, the second the delicate and soft feminine one and the third the noble, rich and long-lived one. Lastly, mucilage allows the uniform diffusion of the fibers in the water, thus avoiding that some are deposited on the bottom of the sieving tank. The plant that is used for this purpose is called TORORO AOI.
Differences between hand sifted and machine sieved paper?
A traditional method for sifting Washi paper is to pour water mixed with the fibers onto a special frame and gradually accumulate them evenly until an ideal thickness is obtained. This technique requires several years of experience and has been handed down for centuries. Today, with the decrease of artisans and growers, it is possible to produce paper with the traditional method even using machines, in this way there are no longer limits of size and quantity without sacrificing the quality and characteristics typical of washi paper.
Difference between washi paper and western paper?
The main difference is in the materials: washi paper uses fibers extracted from the plant, in some cases without any use of chemical additives during the manufacturing process. Western paper, on the other hand, uses cellulose by mixing it with various fibrous materials (hemicellulose and lignin), with the addition of adhesives, mineral fillers, dyes and other additives. The other difference is the strength, because the fibers that are used for washi paper are much longer than those of cellulose and this results in a denser and therefore more robust texture.
Is it a truly ecological product?
It is an ecological paper, because for its production it is not necessary to cut down trees and deforest woods; in fact, types of plants are used that grow periodically (deciduous shrubs) thus following the natural seasonal cycle. Excluding the use of chemical additives, adhesives, dyes. Therefore additives are absent or in any case very rare.
Is it lasting?
Documents dating back over 1000 years have been found, with a remarkable state of conservation in relation to age. This shows that washi paper can last over 1000 years, certainly a much longer duration than Western paper, and is comparable to Egyptian, Greek and Roman papyri. The only precautions to maximize its duration are storage in a dry place away from direct sources of light.