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【Papersky Archives】

Paper Culture / Mino Washi

Held up against the sunlight the sheet of paper emits a soft natural light. A lifetime of knowledge has gone into crafting this piece of Mino Washi. Made since the 1300‘s, its brilliant white color and strength once made the Mino township the capital of paper making in Japan.


Story 01 | Paper out of Liquid

There was a time when all the paper in Mino was handmade collectively by the people of Mino. Every part of the process from stripping the bark from Kozo (Mulberry) branches, boiling the bark with lye in huge ovens to cleaning the bark with cold river water and finally pounding the resulting Kozo pulp with pine hammers. Each action was performed by the entire town; children, mothers, grandmothers and farmers all participated in the transformation of wood into ‘washi’ (paper). But only one person would be responsible for actually drawing the wet paper out of a liquid bath of Kozo pulp and Tororo-aoi roots (Japanese mountain yam–, used to help bind the Kozo). Today in Mino, however, only a few still undertake all those old collective actions by hand. Eighty year old Masashi Sawamura, a national living treasure and 15th generation Mino paper maker is one of those few. 

“It is very difficult work” he says, pointing a large hand towards bundles of dried Kozo bark waiting to be boiled, cleaned, boiled again and pounded before being dissolved into a watery mixture. Sawamura leads us to his darkened workshop, and to the ‘fune’ (wooden bath) where the paper will be drawn out of the liquid bath. He picks up his ‘Keta’, a wooden frame which hold a thin bamboo screen, called a ‘Su’, and begins dipping it into the bath, splashing the cloudy liquid over the screen again and again in a progression of movements side to side, forward and backward and ending with a rapid flicking of the remaining liquid from the screen. 

“Today we are making 30 gram paper. Eventually you learn to tell the exact amount of liquid required to make a 10 gram difference to your paper.” Intuiting the weight of paper is not the only seemingly supernatural thing about Sawamura’s handmade paper. Behind him rests a small tower of recently made, wet, white washi. “How can you be sure the paper won’t stick together?” we ask.

Sawamura stares at the washi “It is alive, the paper. It knows what it should do.” 

< PAPERSKY no.33(2010) >

text & photography | Cameron Allan McKean Coordination | Lucas B.B.