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Japanese Traditional Crafts, Part 2 of 2 – Washi and Suminagashi: The Arts of Paper Making and Paper Marbling

2021-12-01
Език:English

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Traditional Japanese paper is called washi. The term is nowadays used to describe paper made by hand from local fibers that are washed, boiled, beaten, and then strained using traditional techniques. The fibers used for washi are often selected from gampi trees, a group of Japanese shrubs that have been used for making paper since the eighth century. Besides for writing and painting, washi can be used to make a wide range of arts and crafts, including even boxes for gifts, candles, or other special items.

It takes many years of training and practice at traditional techniques to make washi of consistent size and thickness. Mr. Ichibei Iwano is a 9th-generation paper craftsman from Ehizen Washi, a small city in Fukui Prefecture on the West coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island that has a history of papermaking spanning more than 1,500 years. Mr. Iwano has been designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government. Mr. Iwano says that to make the best quality paper, it’s important that he has a calm mind, without any anger or irritation.

In Suminagashi, which means “floating ink,” concentric circles of differently colored dyes are floated in multiple layers on the surface of the water, and then the pattern is broken by blowing on it or fanning it with a fan, creating a unique and delicate striped pattern. Washi paper is then immersed in the ink to copy the pattern. This type of artwork is sometimes called “paper marbling” in English, and it has a history of many thousands of years around the world. While washi paper is the traditional medium for suminagashi, nowadays cloth is also used to copy the special pattern to kimonos, the traditional Japanese clothing.

The beauty of suminagashi creations, along with its associated culture and traditions, attracts many people to the art, both in Japan and abroad. Mr. Tadao Fukuda is a 91-year-old craftsman from Japan who has been certified as a holder of the title Intangible Cultural Property for his expertise in suminagashi. He uses a fan that is designed to create just the right amount of wind to create a pattern with a unique, beautiful texture. And to preserve the pattern, he uses a special piece of washi paper called a "torinoko-shi" made by him. Echizen Washi has been famous for its torinoko-shi since the Muromachi Period (1336-1573).
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