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All about Washi in traditional Japanese books

This short article gives a brief introduction to Washi in traditional Japanese rare books, discussing the different paper textures.
© Keio University

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.

The different textures of paper

Different raw materials, fibre structures, ways to extract the fibres, 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 in rare books

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.

If you’d like to learn more about the art of Washi paper in Japanese rare books, check out the full online course, from Keio University, below.

© Keio University
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The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

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