Inshu-washi Paper

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Washi is handmade paper produced using traditional Japanese techniques. While three forms of washi have been inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, there are in fact numerous washi techniques to be found throughout Japan. Among these, Tottori Prefecture’s Inshu-washi paper has a tradition of being made with an eye to practical needs, and boasts unparalleled usability.

Tottori Prefecture was formerly known as Inshu Province. Though the origins of Inshu-washi are unknown, the Shosoin Treasure Repository in Nara Prefecture—which holds a significant array of important art and craft works from the Nara Period (710-794)—includes in its collection a paper that’s believed to have been made in Inshu, meaning paper-making in the area may well have started as early as 1,300 years ago.

A later record from the Edo Period (1603-1868) describes Inshu-washi paper being made using kozo (paper mulberry) and gampi (a clove-like Japanese bush)—constituents that are still used to make the paper today. It was at this time that Inshu-washi began to be used for decrees issued by the Tokugawa government.

When paper bleaching techniques were introduced to Japan in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), they were quickly adopted and applied to Inshu-washi. The practicality of the techniques allowed production to be increased exponentially. However, as general usage of washi decreased alongside the gradual Westernization of the Japanese lifestyle, Inshu-washi makers shifted their focus to high quality paper such as gasenshi (traditional paper used for drawing and calligraphy), construction paper, dyed paper and paper for repairing craft work. These types of paper have come to be highly valued in Japan, and now comprise an unbeatable 60 percent of the nation’s calligraphy paper production.

Inshu-washi has continued to adapt to changing times. To this day, it continues to maintain traditional techniques while still developing new types of paper, such as three-dimensional lamp paper and functional washi for various purposes. Inshu-washi gives off a warm glow when used as a lamp screen, and works of art presenting this effect are displayed at an event called the Washi Aurora held in the Aoya Washi Studio in Tottori City every year.

With a number of programs in the city where visitors can experience Inshu-washi in a variety of forms, there’s always something new to discover, even in the world of traditional paper.

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