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Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds Now I want to talk about finished paper. First, here we have a standard hanshi (“half-size paper,” a standard format for Japanese calligraphy) made from timber. Timber is available in large quantities, so paper made using timber is cheap and readily available. Whereas here

Skip to 0 minutes and 36 seconds we have paper made from the gampi plant (see Step 1.12). Gampi grows in the wild in Japan and is hard to cultivate moreover, since only phloem fibers, the bast is used, it costs more to make and is therefore available in much smaller quantities. But the advantage of gampi paper (also called hishi) is that it does not absorb ink and can thus be used on both sides, as well as as tracing paper. Then, among the more common varieties we have choshi paper (kōzogami) made from kōzo (paper mulberry) which was the most widely used paper for printed books during the Edo period. Because paper mulberry can be easily cultivated production spread to almost every part of Japan.

Skip to 1 minute and 35 seconds Among the subvarieties of kōzo paper is the danshi which has a distinctive creased texture. This great variety of production methods and source materials is characteristic of washi paper.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 seconds Now, let’s talk about how to analyze paper. Paper analysis does not always produce precise answers but it can help us to make educated guesses. First of all, one can tell how old the paper is. Secondly, one can determine the value of the paper and the cost of producing it. For example, with European rare books specialists use a light to see watermarks and other such features. Shining a light from the back of the page reveals the watermark which often allows to date the book with precision.

Skip to 2 minutes and 54 seconds Although Japanese books do not have watermarks, the flexible-screen/sieve that is used to drain the water and form the sheet leaves visible marks on the paper (called su-no-me) which differ depending on the material of the flexible-screen.

Skip to 3 minutes and 15 seconds This paper here was made with a screen made of kaya (Mischantus reed). Can you see the thick horizontal lines that run through it? In contrast to this, this is going to be hard to see,

Skip to 3 minutes and 37 seconds there is also paper made with sieves made of thin bamboo splints (called take-su). Based on the number of 1 sun (=3.03 cm) wide bamboo splints we can roughly tell in what age the book was made. And there is also paper with no marks at all. In this case a piece of fabric (called shazuki) was placed on the flexible-sieve during the papermaking process, which was costly and not something that the average papermaker would have been able to done, which tells us that this was very expensive paper.

Why look at paper?

Now, let’s take a closer look at the papers used in books. By carefully looking at paper we can find out much more than just its color and texture. Please watch the video to learn more.

Keywords introduced in the video:

  • hanshi
  • timber
  • gampi
  • hishi
  • choshi paper (kōzogami)
  • kōzo (paper mulberry)
  • watermarks
  • su-no-me
  • su, flexible screen
  • bamboo screen (called take-su)
  • shazuki
  • flexible-sieve
  • phloem fibers

Books introduced in the video:


[1] (Japanese) 宍倉佐敏編著 『必携 古典籍・古文書料紙事典』 八木書店 2011/Shishikura Satoshi, Hikkei kotenseki komonjo ryōshi jiten (Yagi Shoten, 2011)

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This video is from the free online course:

The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Keio University