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Types of Japanese paper and their production method

Paper types can be classified by source material, production method, and decoration techniques. This article explores them.

Classification by Raw Material

Paper can be divided into four main types based on the raw material used:

Mashi (hemp paper)

Paper made from hemp (fig. 1). In Japan, ramie hemp is the primary material.

paper fig.1. mashi (hemp paper)

Choshi or kōzogami (mulberry paper)

Paper made from the mulberry plant (fig. 2)

paper fig.2. choshi or kōzogami

Gampi-shi (gampi paper)

Paper made from the gampi plant (fig.3) because of its superior beauty, gampi paper was traditionally called hishi (literally, “beautiful paper”).

paper fig.3. gampishi or hishi

Mitsumata-gami (mitsumata paper)

Made from the mitsumata plant.

paper fig.4. Mitsumata-gami

Classification by Production Method

Depending on the production method used, the thickness of the paper can vary. The Western tamezuki (“accumulated papermaking”) method produces thick paper while the Japanese nagashizuki (“discharged papermaking,” as translated by All Japan Handmade Washi Association’s translation) method yields thinner paper; there are also in-between variants.

paper fig.5. Comparison using transmitted light. paper made by Nagashizuki (Left) ,Tamezuki (Right)

paper fig.6. Paper made by Nagashizuki (Left) ,Tamezuki (Right)

The nagashizuki method requires the use of neri (a viscous liquid that acts as a dispersing agent), which will be discussed in detail in the next section. Compared to the tamezuki method, which requires time to drain the water at each use, the nagashizuki process is faster and allows to produce of a larger quantity of sheets in a shorter time.

Suggestions for further reading:

  • Timothy Barrett, Japanese Papermaking (New York: Weatherhill, 1983)
  • All Japan Handmade Washi Association, Handbook on the Art of Washi (All Japan Handmade Washi Association, 1991)

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The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

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