- • Crafted of non-wood plant fi ber and truly sustainable: paper made from a one-year-old shrub can last 1,000 years
- • Versatile applications for art projects
- • Nature’s purpose for the phloem and cortex base materials—bringing rigidity and fl exibility to the stem—is rendered as a durable, resilient, and beautiful product
Sekishu washi, paper made from non-wood plant fibers, is a product of Hamada in western Shimane prefecture. This method of papermaking is said to have been introduced to this area by the poet Kakimoto no Hitomaro around the years 704 to 715. Today Sekishu washi is recognized by the Japanese government as a traditional craft.
Four studios continue to produce washi just as in olden times—by hand, one sheet at a time, primarily using the fi bers of the paper-mulberry tree, as well as also those of the Oriental paper bush and the gampi plant. In Hamada any number of products are made from the fibers: calligraphy and drawing papers, stationery, and colored papers for art and decorative use in addition to the standard individual sheets called banshi. There is even growing interest among photographers in using Sekishu washi for their fine-art prints.
Notable for its sturdy yet malleable body, Sekishu washi ranks among the best of high-quality Japanese papers. It can be crumpled, rolled, and folded repeatedly without tearing. Its natural suppleness and durability are why it is often the preferred paper of choice in the restoration of cultural properties. It is water resistant, too. Sekishu washi also lends itself to sculpture. The elaborate demon, deity, and serpent masks worn in Iwami Kagura, a colorful performance art of the western Shimane region with deep folkloric origins, are made of it.
Still another characteristic of Sekishu washi is that it is ecologically sustainable, being fashioned from locally cultivated plants. Paper mulberry, for example, is ready for harvest as quickly as one year after planting. Nonetheless, stewardship is required to ensure a healthy and suffi cient supply. Hamada’s artisans face shortages of this critical material as the median age of their population increases and fewer hands are available to nurse the trees.
Paper-mulberry fi bers immersed in a fune water-holding vat are scooped up and shaken onto a papermaking screen made variously of bamboo and reed. The fi bers entwine as they are expertly shaken to uniform thickness. From the left are Masaru Nishita of Nishita Washi Kobo, So Kubota of Sekishu Washi Kubota, and Isao Kawahira of Kawahira. These young paper artisans are the future of Sekishu washi.
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