What is Washi Paper ?

Washi ("Wa", means Japanese and "Shi" means paper) is a typically Japanese paper, originally introduced from China...

In this article we will detail its origins as well as its use. Anchored in Japanese culture since the 7th century during the Nara period, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014.

Washi paper Japanese history

It was about 1300 years ago, in the 7th century during the Nara period that washi was introduced from China, previously known as tissue paper, still known by that name in Europe and the West. Before that, in China and Japan, characters were written on wood.

After the arrival of washi in Japan, technology developed and a wide variety of washi could be made. Washi was particularly useful in temples, where monks often used it to write sutras and other texts.

In the making of washi, three main materials are used to make it: kozo (paper mulberry tree), mitsumata (paper mitsumata) and gampi (paper goose). In general, the kozo is the one most used, so we will mainly talk about this material in this article.

As the paper is not bleached with chemicals, it initially takes on a natural kozo (paper mulberry) color, but gradually becomes whiter with use due to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

The characteristics and textures of washi are very varied, and they are often used in unexpected places. But what kinds of objects or places?

washi-kozo-paper

What is washi paper used for?

Washi has a noble, ancestral and especially cultural image in Japan. During the Edo period (1603-1867), it was used as accounting paper, but nowadays it is mostly used for writing and drawing.

If you treat it carefully, you can use it for a long time, which is why old town hall or accounting records from different eras are found in particular.

It is a natural material that can easily return to the ground and is ecologically safe since the main material is wood. It is therefore all the more in line with the current ecological boom and the collective awareness about our world.

It also allows you to use a natural material that can be easily returned to the ground.

It also makes spoons and other plastic substitutes, water resistant, they can also be used to make umbrellas.

At the time, Japan had a lot of mulberry wood, when there were many Japanese decor style rooms, washi was often used to cover sliding doors and screens also called "shoji", you can find this type of panels in all the movies that deals with Japan and these houses with such a special style.

Today, while retaining its simple and warm texture, the washi industry is developing new washi and washi products such as art paper, dyed paper for paper crafts, momi-gami (rice paper), "itajime" dyed paper and paper made with fiberglass.

Nowadays, washi paper is best known for origami, the art of folding paper into an animal shape or any other type of easily recognizable, embossed form, a vocation of decorating.

washi-origami-paper

How is washi paper made?

The recipe for steamed kozo is detailed below:

  • Steam the paper
  • Gently peel off the softened skin
  • Boil the skin with alkali (various compounds with so-called alkaline properties) to soften it further
  • Pillow the paper

After going through these steps and respecting the process, the washi is finally ready, and we can see that it takes quite a bit of time and especially effort!

Although kozo grows everywhere in Japan, there is a slight difference depending on the place of production, especially a difference arises in the texture.

For example, paper made from kozo in the Kanto region has a harder finish than kozo from other regions.

The future of washi

Having been used for over 1300 years in Japan, washi has evolved and found its use in every era of Japanese history. Now registered as cultural heritage, some Japanese companies continue the production of this ancestral paper and even find new functionalities or even new uses for it.

Now used in the design of certain works of art, the washi should have many more years ahead of it.

If you want to try your hand at this Japanese art, feel free to take a look at our collection of Washi tape collection...