Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washi
Washi is a type of paper produced in Japan and the word is derived from the Japanese words “Wa” which means “Japanese” and “Shi” which means “paper”. This handmade paper is also known as Wagami and is made from three major constituents - kozo or ‘mulberry bark’, ‘mitsumata shrubs’, and ‘gampi tree’. These three components are used solely or in combinations for their uniqueness. Even though Kozo is a deciduous tree found in many parts of the world, it grows abundantly in the Kyushu Islands and Shikoku in Japan. Mitsumata is a bush and is a native to China and is used in making Japanese money. Gampi trees are native to Japan and are tough to find in any other parts of the world. Since these trees and bushes are difficult to come across, the paper made using them are expensive to make. Sometimes certain other fibers like abaca, rayon, wheat, rice, bamboo, hemp, etc. are also mixed to make washi paper.
Handmade Washi Paper
There were times when a huge number of people in Japan used to manufacture washi papers by hand. However, with changing times, washi paper is nowadays made by machines. It is interesting to note that there are nearly three hundred and fifty families who still produce washi papers by hand in Japan today!
Washi paper is used in many traditional art forms like Shodo and Sumi-e - the art of Calligraphy, Origami- the art of paper folding and Ukiyo-e – the art of wood block printing. They are also used to make Ikebanas and sculpting. Apart from these, washi paper is also used to make various other essential items like clothing, Shibori- dyeing cloth following a particular pattern, Sumingashi - a form of paper marbling and washi eggs, etc.
Other than the traditional art forms they are used in making clothing like kimonos, cosplay, zori and obi and are used in making toys like akabekos. An interesting fact about washi paper is that it is used in the preparation of Tempura which is a Japanese delicacy. It is also used to make furniture like Shoji, Futon, and objects like bento boxes, bags, banknotes, umbrellas, scale models, tissues, fans, parasols, packaging materials, stationery items, etc.
Washi paper is also used in religious practices like making a whisk called Harae-Gushi used by Shinto priests for purification purposes. They are used to make wreaths that were given to winners in events like sumo wrestling and winter Paralympics. In ancient times they were also in making weaponry like fire balloons.
Washi paper is used to make interior decorations and other craft work like screens, wallpapers, frames, mats, window coverings, lamp shades covers for books.
Washi papers are of different varieties and each paper varies in the percentage of materials used, texture, design and color. The process of dyeing washi paper also differs.
There are different types of washi such as ganpishi, kozogami, mitsumatagami which are the most popular papers found. There are other different types of washi such as awa aizomegami, awagami, awajigami, bashoshi, bitchu atorinokogami, birutangami, chirimen, chigusagami, chochingami, danshi, etchu washi, edo chiyogami, edo karakami, echizen hoshoshi, echizen bijutsu kogeishi, fukanogami, goka yamagami, haigushi, hosokawagami, etc.