Washi – Love and Celebration

In June of this year we will celebrate the 1400th birthday of Washi.  It was the year 610 c.e. when the art of papermaking was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks from China.  We believe a tradition that has been improved and made excellent for so long, should be treasured; especially in a time when the future of this craft is endangered. At the turn of the 19th century there were some 80,000 families making paper by hand and today there are roughly 320 individuals who carry on the tradition.

Photograph by Martina Issler Bildreich from her new series of postcards entitled "Washi"

Photograph by Martina Issler Bildreichentitled "Washi"

Today, here in Toronto, we are actively encouraging artists, craftspersons, and paper admirers to search out this unique medium and to embrace the complexity of its nature.  Moreover, we maintain, through the inspiration of The Japanese Paper Place founder, Nancy Jacobi, that it is improper to think of Washi as paper because of the limitations and preconceived ideas we attach to that word.  Instead it should be regarded as a separate medium with endless possibilities.  In store, we are proud to be able to offer many of Japan’s finest Washi papers.

shifu (woven paper cloth) with Hiroko Karuno - The washi after being cut, rolled and loosened

shifu (woven paper cloth) with Hiroko Karuno - The washi after being cut, rolled and loosened

The Word “Washi” came to be at the end of the 19th century to separate it from it’s European counterparts.  Washi, in its essence, stands for paper of pure renewable fibres (kozo – mulberry, gampi, or mitsumata).  It is made by those who have laboured over and poured their love and lives into handmade paper in the Japanese tradition.

The Osakis at their home. Mr. Osaki, Akari's father, is no longer making paper but Akari continues the family tradition.

The Osakis at their home. Mr. Osaki, Akari's father, is no longer making paper but Akari continues the family tradition.

At the end of March, we were honoured to have Nancy as our guest speaker for our first Washi Talk.  The desired result being an audience of people who, if they ever had any doubt, would be forever enchanted by Washi.  Through slides and examples we were pulled in by the stories of Nancy’s visits to Japan, her relationship with papermakers committed to their craft, and the work of artists from around the world that encourage her and all of us to continue our support.  As she talked about one visit she described watching the papermakers work with such precision and expertice that they appeared to be dancing with the water and their tools, I had goosebumps.  It was a remarkable evening!

In the photo above (taken on Nancy’s most recent visit to Japan) is Akari who had not planned to follow in the family footsteps until a visit to Canada sponsored by The Japanese Paper Place in 2002 for Japanese papermakers to meet Inuit printmakers using their paper. Akari was so moved by the value placed on their paper by these artists that she was inspired to continue the family paper making tradition.

We would like to extend, on behalf of The Japanese Paper Place, an invitation to observe and participate in a Birthday Bash in honour of Washi and those that continue to carry on it’s tradition.  It all starts with a call for submission for drawings on Washi. Please visit The Japanes Paper Place website for ongoing updates and check back with us for our participation details.

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One Response to “Washi – Love and Celebration”

  1. Sigrid Blohm says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog entry and your ongoing enthusiastic support of Japanese paper; it means a lot to us to know that there are others who are as fired up about washi as we are! I encourage anyone who has ever thought of trying out washi to go to your store and get some now — it’s so versatile and can do so much for you — and without people using it how can it continue to be viable for it to be made?

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