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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.

Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds I am now about sixty kilometers from Tokyo, in Ogawamachi, known as the “hometown of washi paper”. Currently, the mulberry paper plant wood is being steamed. This is done once a year, during the cold season. The wood is steamed to remove insects and insect eggs as well as to make the bark easier to peel off. It is much easier to remove the bark after the wood has been steamed. To make it usable for an entire year, the wood is treated for insects and then the bark is peeled off.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds Next, let’s look at the next stages in the production process.

First stage in the papermaking process

Let us learn about the papermaking process, from plant to finished sheet.

From this point on, we look at the various steps of the papermaking process. If you recall, the trailer for this course showed a very cold, wintry scene. The reason is that the washi papermaking process usually starts in winter. Look at the video to see the first stage in the paper manufacturing process.

Basics of papermaking

The old Chinese Book of Later Han ((Hou Hanshu, 5th century C.E.)) records how paper was made by its inventor, Cai Lun (50-121 C.E.). Let’s trace together the basic process that he used.

Chinese book fig.1. Book of the Later Han, Cai Lun is mentioned in the book
Click to see the book page closely

First stage

The first stage was to turn the plants or clothes made from plants material into fibers. As raw materials, Cai Lun used tree bark, hemp, rags, and fishing nets and separated the fibers using a stone mortar. Through this process, the cellulose was first extracted from the raw material.

Second stage

The second stage was to immerse the fibers in water in order to favor hydrogen bonding between the fibers. To compose the fibers into sheets, Cai Lun used a flat sieve-like mat. The mat separates the fibers from the water and the fibers connect together to form a sheet.

Third stage

The third stage consisted in removing the excess wetness and allowing the tightly connected fibers to dry.

This three-stage process became the basic process to make paper. Once this initial process was devised, the methods and the materials continued to evolve giving rise to a great variety of different papers.

The papermaking process in Ogawamachi

The video introduced the beginning of the papermaking process in Ogawamachi. In Ogawamachi, the process comprises 13 steps divided into 3 stages:

The first stage: from plant to fiber

  1. Harvest the mulberry woods from the farm from November to January
  2. Steam the mulberry branches
  3. Peel the steamed mulberry branches, and dry the barks
  4. Scrape off the outer black bark
  5. Cook the barks in boiling water
  6. Soak the barks in the water
  7. Remove specks from the bark
  8. Pound the bark
  9. Beat the bark into a pulp

The second stage: making a sheet from the pulp

  1. Pound aibika (tororoaoi) with a wooden mallet
  2. Make paper from the pulp

The third stage: drying

  1. Compress the wet paper
  2. Dry the paper

Steps nos. 2 and 3 of the first stage are introduced in the video of this step; the second and the third stage will be introduced in the next Step.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Keio University