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ABOUT KYOTO WASHI PAPER

Zusetsu Kyoto washi paper

About our Kyoto Washi Paper 

As Zusetsu grows, we are adding more beautiful items from Kyoto to our online store. Cathy's background in children's book illustration means that we are always drawn to beautifully designed textiles and papers.

 

Currently, we stock beautiful Kyoto origami; pretty washi trays; and cute and imaginative animal Kamifusen paper balloons! 

washi paper in Kyoto temple shoji screen

What is Washi Paper?

Washi is a traditional Japanese paper which is made from plant fibres. The most popular type of washi is created from the steamed, stripped, and mashed bark from the branches of mulberry plants. This type of washi is called choshi or kouzogami. The cellulose cells of the fibres of the mulberry connect through hydrogen bonding.


The thickness of the paper will vary according to the production method that is used. For the tamezuki method, no dispersant is used, and so large amounts of watery fibres are strained through a screen, resulting in thicker paper. For the Japanese nagashizuki method, a dispersant is added to the fibre bath, which creates thinner, faster-drying paper. The dispersant is called neri. It is a starchy liquid that is made by pounding the roots of the aikiba plant (tororo-aoi) and soaking them in water.

 

All manner of plants have been used to create paper in Japan: hemp, gampi, mitsumata, mulberry. Many finishes have been perfected too, from polished, and hammered, smooth surfaces that are beautiful to write on; to the grey, ink-and-paper recycled shukushi that has been in use since the Heian era (794-1185), when Kyoto was first the capital city. Additives such as mica; alum; or gold leaf were added to paper to create (respectively) whiteness; or a beautiful painting surface; or a decorative pattern.

 

Here on a translucent sliding screen (shouji ) at Taizoin temple, you can see washi that has been created using an insert of acer leaves.

Genji monogatari illustration

A Brief History of Washi in Kyoto

Papermaking originated in Japan through the production of Buddhist scriptures, around the year 701.

 

About a decade after Kyoto was established as the capital of Japan (793), the kamiya-no-in controlled the manufacture of paper; as well as studying new methods of papermaking, and training zoushishu to travel across Japan teaching their paper-making skills.

 

The kamiya-no-in take their name from the Kamiya river that flows through the city.

 

The beauty of this paper, known as kanyagami, is described in The Tale of Genji – the beautiful 11th century novel about a fictionalised Heian court, written by the Empress’ lady-in-waiting, Murasaki Shikibu.

If you’d like to learn more about washi paper, why not take a look at the free Futurelearn online course run by Keio University: The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books. 

Zusetsu Kyoto origami

Introducing our Kyoto Origami Papers 

Our Kyoto origami uses that special Japanese colour palette that engages our eye and makes it so appealing.

 

Shogado were established in 1964, and they specialise in creating beautiful yuzen washi paper products. Each product is individually handmade by skillful and experienced crafts-people.

Zusetsu Kyoto washi tray

Introducing our Kyoto Washi Trays 

Our beautiful washi trays come from a traditional old machiya-style store that is located in one of the old back lanes of Kyoto. These lanes echo the original grid system of Heian-kyo – the old capital of Japan – which was built in emulation of the cultured and revered contemporary Chinese capital Chang’an (modern day Xi’an).

suzuki shofudo store in Kyoto

A Beautiful Old Store

Nowadays, two traditional fan shops are located nearby, and just around the corner is a store that serves matcha accompanied by a traditional red azuki bean dessert.

Suzuki Shofudo were established in Kyoto in 1893 as a manufacturer of traditional paper items.

 

Kyoto was renowned for its beautiful kimono, and it was the kimono patterns from the Showa era (1926-1989) that became the inspiration for the paper patterns. But far older patterns are recreated too, such as the kikukarakusa chrysanthemum pattern, which came from China in the Nara period, over a thousand years ago!

suzuki shofudo craftsman printing

Making Patterned Washi Paper

The patterned washi paper is created using a stencil-dyeing method called katazome that originally comes from the old, traditional kyo-yuzen dyeing technique for kimono textiles.

 

Katazome is an intricate process. First, soybeans are mashed to create soybean milk (gojiru).This acts as a fixative for the colour pigments. The first part of the pattern is created onto the washi paper using a starch resist. Then the gojiru fixative is poured into the dye, and the paper is deep-dyed, several times, in order to create a rich colour.

 

The process is repeated for each colour of the pattern; then the starched resist is washed and cleaned away, leaving the fresh, bright colours on the washi paper.

suzuki shofudo papers

We had a wonderful time visiting the store, and the beautiful upstairs office. It was lined with tatami, and was set in the eaves of the machiya. We were offered delicious green tea to drink, and in return we gave a gift of Fortnum and Mason’s biscuits!

Our washi trays come from a heritage of traditional kimono dyeing; and from a business skilled in the art of paper products. They are very special, but with their wipe-clean surfaces they are practical to have around the home as they are useful as coasters, adding that little touch of beauty and tradition!

Kyoto washi paper packs

Our Kyoto Washi Paper Packs 

 

We love our Washi Tray traditional papers so much we also stock their beautiful origami.

 

The packaging is delightful - each set of 10 papers is contained in a 'butterfly wing' of white washi, and held together by a coloured strip. It really is most elegant, and creates a wonderful gift!

Zusetsu kamifusen balloon

Introducing our Kyoto Paper Balloons 

 
 

We adore the ingenuity behind our Kyoto Kamifusen Paper Balloons, and we love how they are crafted using washi papers such as Echizen and Awa.

 

Simply inflate the paper balloon by blowing into it, then complete the inflation by patting it into the air with your hand - the physics behind this actually draws air into the balloon to complete its inflation! It's a fun game too!

Text and Photo Sources

Futurelearn, Keio University: The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Including Photo: Genji Monogatari, illus. Tsuna Isome, 17th century, Keio University Library.

 

Harvard EdX; Melissa McCormick: Japanese Books: From Manuscript to Print

Photo: Suzuki Shofudo

Photo: Rokuhichido

 
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