Traditional Japanese Paper: Everything You Need to Know About Washi

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washi

Paper is an ancient technology that continues to change the world. Invented around 200 BC in China (or perhaps even earlier), the technology made its way through Asia and around the world.

In Japan, traditional papermaking technologies are still not only in use but highly valued as an intrinsic part of Japanese culture. One of these papers is called washi paper. Washi paper was likely invented over 1,500 years ago, and it still offers a window to the past.

What is Washi Paper?

If you have ever encountered Japanese crafts or bookmaking, then you have encountered washi paper. Washi is a light but strong Japanese paper: the word washi translates literally to Japanese paper.

Washi paper is a traditional Japanese paper, which has been in use since around 610 C.E. when Buddhist monks brought the art of handmaking paper to Japan.

Today's washi paper differs from what they used almost 1,500 years ago because, over time, Japanese craftspeople have adopted and improved the methods. Once incredibly fragile, the Japanese include the inner-bark fibers of three native plants: gampi (a Japanese shrub), mitsumata (a tree), and kozo (mulberry). When combined with pure cold water, the fiber makes the paper more durable without damaging its beauty.

While most washi is now made in large mills, you can still find Japanese families who make it the traditional way. Farmers make washi during the winter because the cold temperatures keep the bark fresh and cause the pulp fibers to contract which makes it stronger. Artisans also continue making washi in their workshops. Their years of experience allows them to achieve the perfect thickness of the paper while never seen it

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How to Use Washi Paper

Washi is just one type of Japanese paper. Each different type uses different plants and techniques. But what can you use washi for?

You can use washi paper for Japanese crafts, like origami, ukiyo-e, and shodo. But the paper's longevity means you can also use it for clothes. Shinto priests made vestments and even statues from the paper. Even the government previously used washi for banknotes. The 100-yen note in circulation until the 1940s was made from washi.

Washi has also been used for books and bookbinding. Historians look at the fibers in ancient books to tell where they came from. Today, most books are made from the paper from mills, but washi is a great tool for any aspiring bookbinders.

Buy Your Own Washi Paper

Washi is a long-standing Japanese craft that is as important to Japanese culture today as it has ever been. Today, you can buy washi paper from craft stores, paper stores, and craftspeople, even if you don't live in Japan. The paper is widely available online.

If you travel to Japan, you can visit a washi factory and see how it's made for yourself.

Has this traditional craft sparked an interest in traveling to Japan? Visit our Travel or Lifestyle section to start planning your trip.

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