In Japan there are many brands of washi paper produced through traditional hand-making techniques. Of these, Kochi Prefecture’s Tosa-washi is especially known for its utility in repairing prestigious works of art.
By applying the paper with a specially purposed glue, damaged paintings and manuscripts can be made whole again. These have ranged from ukiyo-e color prints in Japan to documents stored in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as well as Michelangelo’s paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and various works of art stored in the Louvre Museum in Pairs.
The secret behind the globally recognized quality of Tosa-washi is found in a combination of traditional techniques and Kochi’s rich natural resources. Though the origins of the paper are not conclusively known, in the Engishiki, a Heian-Period (794-1185) record of laws and customs, it’s noted that taxes in Tosa Province (now Kochi Prefecture) were collecting using paper. It is thus estimated that the paper’s history goes back at least 1,000 years.
The key to manufacturing quality washi lies in its main ingredients: water and kozo, the paper mulberry tree. The Niyodo River, said to have the best water on the island of Shikoku, runs through the middle of Kochi—and top-quality washi constituents such as kozo and mitsumata (Oriental paperbush) have grown along this clear stream since ancient times.
As the quality of the area’s paper came to be recognized, the number of craftspeople grew rapidly, and by the mid-Meiji Period (1868-1912), the region became the chief washi producer in Japan.
Tosa-washi is characterized not only by its quality, but also by its prolific variation. While some washi makers produce only calligraphy paper or translucent paper for shoji sliding doors, Tosa-washi is manufactured in roughly 300 variations. It’s highly valued for its thin, yet durable nature, which has led to it being known as kagero-no-hane, or dragonfly wing. It is the world’s thinnest hand-made paper. These properties have been realized through the time-honed techniques of the craftspeople who so skillfully intertwine the long, thick fibers of the kozo. The paper’s thinness and durability open up a broad range of uses, including the repair of ancient works of cultural heritage.
The traditions of Tosa-washi are still passed on to this day. With modern uses ranging from craft work to wallpaper, there’s surely a style of Tosa-washi that’s just right for you.
Tosa Paper Craft Village
1226 Kashiki Ino-cho Agawa City Kochi Prefecture
58 Otsu Hisaeda Nankoku City Kochi Prefecture