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This content is taken from the Keio University's online course, The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books. Join the course to learn more.

Washi in traditional Japanese books

You are now familiar with various kinds of washi paper used in Japanese traditional bookmaking, how they are produced, and the basic history of paper. You have also learned how to examine paper and what information you can get by looking at paper seriously.

Traditional Japanese books come in a wide variety of different binding styles and paper types. Even paper that at first looks like ordinary white paper has its distinctive characteristics. Different raw materials, fiber structures, ways to extract the fibers, the papermaking process, the dispersant, the tools, the drying methods, and the finishing treatments–all affect the appearance and texture of the paper.

We may not be aware of it but whenever we pick up a book we take in more information than just what the writing and images on the page tell us; the weight of the book, the texture and consistency of the paper, the sound the paper makes and even its smell—all this information gets to our brains at the same time as the text we read.

Paper is something we experience with all of our five senses, not just vision. But although paper is everywhere around us, few of us pay serious attention to it. But if we do pay attention, paper (especially the paper in rare books) can tell us much about its history. About who made it, who it was made for, and who decorated it; if you know where to look, it is like having a story within the story.

Thus, besides the stories, poems, and pictures that they contain, through paper traditional Japanese books also tell us about the tastes, resources, and technologies of the people who produced them. Next time you look at an old book, try applying some of the things you have learned in Week 1; I am sure that you will have a richer experience and see them in a new way.

About Week 2

In Week 2, we will learn about various decoration techniques used by traditional Japanese bookmakers to embellish paper and make books more visually appealing.

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We hope you enjoyed the contents of this week. If you found anything interesting (websites, images, apps) or relevant to this course, please share them below in the discussion space. If you did not search for any external resources, now it may be a good time to do so.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Keio University