Skip to 0 minutes and 2 secondsShiroto-san. So this is a store that specializes in washi. Yes, Ozu Washi, in Nihonbashi,specializes in washi paper. It has been operating continuously since it was founded in 1653 by Ozu Seizaemon Nagahiro, a merchant from Matsusaka in Ise (today’s Mie prefecture). Here one can see, touch, and buy all sorts of washi paper and add a little color to their lives. Is that beautiful glossy paper there hishi paper? Yes. People call it the king of papers. It is made from a plant called gampi (Wikstroemia Sikokiana). It is so wonderful that this gorgeous paper is still being produced today. I must say, the variety of papers sold here is impressive. Yes, you can experience first-hand the richness of Japanese papermaking culture.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 secondsI believe the variety of the papers used is one of the unique features of traditional Japanese books. In Week 1, we will look at the raw materials and production techniques. I wouldn’t want to miss that. Whenever you are ready.

Welcome to the course

Welcome to “The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books”!

Just as there are many different kinds of books, there are many different types of washi – traditional Japanese paper. Professor Sasaki, the lead educator for this course, and Dr. Shiroto, your host for Week 1, welcome you to the world of washi paper from a washi paper store in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo that has been in business for more than 350 years.

First, watch the video. After watching the video, read below for an outline of the course, an introduction to the team of educators, and other useful information. Then, please advance to the next Step.

A two-week journey

Washi can differ in color, texture, strength and durability depending on the materials used, production and processing methods.

Why did Japanese papermakers produce such a wide variety of papers and how did they choose the paper to use in books? Learning about the papers used in rare books will give you a deeper understanding of Japanese culture.

In this two-week course, you will learn about the paper used in traditional Japanese books from both a scientific and cultural perspective.

In the first week, we will study the definition, history, manufacturing methods and materials of Japanese paper and we will also learn how to identify different types of washi.

In the second week, you will learn about Japanese papermaking techniques, with a particular focus on decorated papers used in books, and discuss why and when such papers were used. You will see many beautiful books from our library, some with gorgeous decorations and beautiful covers.

Over these two weeks, you will also be invited to consider the important role of washi in the beauty of rare books and find out interesting aspects of Japanese book culture and Japanese culture and art in general.

The course makes use of a number of visual resources which unfortunately may make some of the activities not accessible to learners with visual impairment. Course videos will be in Japanese with English subtitles.

Organizing team

This course will be led by Professor Takahiro Sasaki of the Keio Institute of Oriental Classics and Dr. Makiko Shiroto, a Keio University Alumna and a member of Society for Study of Washi Culture. Prof. Sasaki specializes in bibliography and Japanese literature in the medieval period with a particular focus on waka. Dr. Shiroto specializes in bibliography and Japanese literature in the Edo period with a particular focus on papers in books and publications.

Japanese contents have been translated and edited by Dr. Gian-Piero Persiani, a professor of premodern Japanese literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Translation help was also provided by Justin Brook, Joe Kesslering, and Wesley Sampias. The course is produced by the Research Institute for Digital Media and Content and the Global Education Project at the Graduate School of Media Design of Keio University.

Educators From the left: Takahiro Sasaki, Makiko Shiroto, and Gian-Piero Persiani.

Motoki Yasui from Keio University Press, Goki Miyakita and Professor Keiko Okawa from the Graduate School of Media Design, will assist you during the course!

Follow the team to read their responses to learners throughout the course.

Important notes

  • All videos have English and Japanese subtitles. You can choose the language by clicking the bubble mark in the bottom right corner of the video.
  • For all steps the English and Japanese text of articles and video scripts is available, which you can find as PDFs under the “DOWNLOADS” section at the bottom of the first step of each week. (すべてのコンテンツは日本語(PDF)でも提供しています。以下の “DOWNLOADS” セクションからダウンロードしてください。)
  • All book titles and Japanese keywords will be italicized.
  • You can see the information and images of the book in larger size by clicking the links marked “Click to see the image and information”.
  • Some words and names that may be unfamiliar to learners are listed in the glossary located in Step 1.23.
  • When you complete each step, select the Mark as complete button before selecting the arrow to move on.

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Unlimited access to the course: Go at your own pace with unlimited access to the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn.

A Certificate of Achievement: To help you demonstrate your learning we’ll send you a Certificate of Achievement when you become eligible.

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The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Keio University