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How to make Washi paper: Japanese paper making techniques

Production methods: ways to make paper

The next stage is the actual papermaking (sheet-formation) process.

How to make Washi papers by pouring or dipping

The two main methods to make paper are the “pouring” or gyōshi method and the “dipping” or shōshi method. The shōshi method is used to make Washi papers.

Please watch the video to see the two contemporary papermaking styles, tamezuki and nagashizuki, both categorized in the shōshi method.

Note that the video does not include any audio narration. Please turn on the subtitles to see the explanation of the video in English or Japanese.

The two main papermaking methods

The gyōshi or “pouring” method: the earliest method consists of beating the fibers to obtain a pulp, adding water to it and then filtering it out.

The shōshi or “dipping” method: the fibers are placed in a vat filled with water and distributed evenly; then they are scooped up using a flexible screen (su); the process is repeated several times until the desired thickness is reached. Both the tamezuki and nagasizuki styles that you’ve seen in the video are examples of this method.

Two styles – nagashizuki and tamezuki

papemaking (Left) fig.1. Nagashizuki (Right) fig.2. Tamezuki

Whereas tamezuki style gives thick paper, the nagashizuki style produces thin paper. The Japan-made, extra-thin tengujōshi, the world’s thinnest paper, is used by restorers worldwide including at the Vatican.

In Japanese nagashizuki-style papermaking, neri (a glutinous vegetable substance) is added to the water as a dispersant (in China, neri is known as zhiyao, or, “paper medicine”). A smooth, level layer of fibers is created by allowing the fibers to spread evenly in the water. Ways of spreading the fiber vary by place. In Europe, most manufacturers do not use dispersing agents and distribute the fibers by raising the temperature in the vat thereby causing flows of water.

The shape and size of the flexible screen (sunoko or simply su) also varies by area. The sunoko leaves horizontal line marks on the paper that are traditionally called su-no-me (su marks).

How to dry your Washi papers

For the third stage, drying, in Japan the sheets are placed on wooden boards. In China and Korea, they were usually pasted on a wall. In Europe, they were hung on ropes. Different materials and manufacturing methods give the paper different characteristics which in turn affect their use in bookmaking.

Hosokawa-shi (Hosokawa paper)

The papermaking establishment shown in the video is a manufacturer of “Hosokawa paper” (Hosokawa-shi) located in the Chichibu area of Saitama prefecture. Kindly making paper for us is the traditional papermaker Hisako Uchimura. The name Hosokawa paper comes from the town of Hosokawa, near Mount Koya in Kishū (today’s Wakayama prefecture) where this technique originated.

As introduced in Step 1.8, many paper varieties are named after the region where they were first made.

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The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

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