Between the splendid night view from Gifu Castle, the historical townscape of Takayama City, and the marvelous snowscape of the village of Shirakawago—registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—Gifu Prefecture is famous for its scenery. However, in November of 2014, washi (traditional Japanese paper) from Japan’s three washi-producing centers—including Honmino-shi paper made in Gifu’s Mino City—were registered in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list under the single heading of “Washi: Japan’s washi hand-making technique.” With this, Gifu became recognized as a home of traditional crafts as well as a center of beautiful scenery.
The history of Honmino-shi paper can be traced all the way back to the year 702. An investigation of Japan’s oldest washi paper, preserved in the Shosoin Repository in Nara Prefecture, reveals a collection of many important art and craft works, including a family registry sheet that was handmade in three areas that included Mino Province (now the southern part of Gifu Prefecture) some 1,300 years ago. In spite of its age, the fibers of this Mino-made paper remain well intertwined, and still maintain a soft, unique feel.
After the Heian Period (794-1185), paper production became increasingly commonplace, and paper from Mino became nationally popularized for its durability and quality. By the Edo Period (1603-1868), it was so highly regarded that it became the standard translucent paper for Japan’s lightweight shoji sliding doors. It is also well known to be the official paper used by the Tokugawa shogunate.
Honmino-shi paper is distinguished by its extremely beautiful whiteness, with a soft yet durable quality. Paper is only designated as Honmino if it meets requirements such as using only pulp from mulberry trees as its constituent ingredient, using only natural additives, and prohibiting the use of bleach. Only about 10 percent of Mino’s traditional paper products achieve this distinction. To obtain this quality, only carefully selected natural materials are used, including top-quality Nasu paper mulberry trees and clean, rich water from the Itadorigawa River, a tributary of the Nagaragawa River, which runs through Mino City. The manufacturing process requires an extremely high level of skill, and the fibers are intertwined in an orderly manner through a complex and unique paper-making method that uses both vertical and horizontal shaking of the papermaking frame.
Even today, washi culture is strongly rooted in Mino City. There are many workshops that make traditional Japanese paper, and many that use washi to make various works of art, as well as galleries that showcase these works. An exploration of the traditional crafts of Mino City will reveal a piece of the depth of Japanese culture.
Minowashi no Sato kaikan
1851 Warabi Mino City Gifu Prefecture
Fukujucho Hirakata Hashima City Gifu Prefecture