A Look at Japanese Craftsmanship: 0.1mm Nishijima Washi

In Japan, there are several amazing crafts that were created using techniques passed down through many generations. This article will introduce one of those crafts, Nishijima Washi. Please take a look at the accompanying video to see this beautiful craft, as well as the brilliant crafting techniques that have been polished for 400 years, with your own eyes! You’ll surely fall in love.

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What is Nishijima Washi?

Nishijima Washi is a kind of Japanese paper that is made in Nishijima, a mountainous region of Yamanashi Prefecture located west of Tokyo.

“Washi” literally means “Japanese paper”. Made using an old Japanese crafting method, it has incredible absorbency, which is why it is mostly used for activities such as calligraphy. Out of all the kinds of washi out there, Nishijima Washi is known to be particularly absorbent, thus why it is loved by many famous calligraphers.

How Nishijima Washi is Made

Nishijima Washi is made from various materials, such as short fibers called “Mitsumata” (refer to the photo above) and "Inawara" (rice straw stalks). At Yamajuseishi, they boil stuff like recycled paper to form the base material for Nishijima Washi. If you’re able to see this process during a visit there, you’re lucky!

Mixing the Ingredients Together

Water is mixed with the materials, and then the resulting mixture is left to steep for several hours. The composition of each mixture is adjusted based on factors such as that day’s humidity or temperature. It takes many years of work to grasp this. It may look like they’re just mixing things together, but this work actually can’t be easily done!

Papermaking

The pulp slurry is dumped onto a filter, and all the unnecessary water, paste, and other stuff is thrown away. Only the remaining mixture on the filter will be used to make Nishijima Washi. In order to get the thickness of the paper to 0.1mm, the craftsmen now need to adjust everything to equal size and length, which cannot be done without many years of experience. Since they do this on a different day, they will need to adjust everything again to match the new day’s temperature and humidity, as well as the thickness of the mixture. This is real craftsmanship at work!

Sun Drying

The finished papers are stacked on top of each other, and then flattened using a special machine press to get rid of moisture. To ensure that they are completely dry, they are hung to sun dry for around 1 month. When completely dry, the thickness of each layer will become half of what it was before.

Drying Paper

The sun dried paper are once again put into water to soak. How long they steep depends on several factors like the season and temperature, which means that only a skilled craftsman can determine the best timing!

Each layer is delicately separated to prevent tearing the 0.1mm thin paper, and then laid on a 70°C hot iron board to dry. It may look like they’re being treated like any regular sheet of paper, but out of all the kinds of Washi paper out there, Nishijima Washi has especially short fibers, which means they’re very easy to tear. Again, this process requires many years of experience to master.

After carefully peeling off each layer to prevent tears and laying them out neatly, the Nishijima Washi is done!

In order to create just one layer of Nishijima Washi, it took this much time and crafting skill. This skill continues to be quietly honed in the factories of Yamanashi Prefecture today.

You Can Try Paper Marbling Too!

Not only can you watch how Nishijima Washi is made, but you can also experience paper marbling for yourself by signing up for a (paid) experience course at Yamajuseishi!

What is Paper Marbling?

By dribbling ink and oil onto the water’s surface several times, you can create a film of several layers of circles. Blow air on the film to make the pattern shift, creating unique shapes.

If you put especially thick Washi paper on top of the water’s surface, the paper will absorb the pattern. After washing the paper with clean water to get rid of excess ink and drying it, you’re finished! You can’t make exactly what you want, but it’s still fun to gaze at the patterns on the water’s surface that almost look alive!

Make Some Colorful Ones Too!

Japanese-style paper marbling is good too, but why not try some colorful ones as well? Put whatever color you’d like into the water and use a specialized comb-like gadget to brush through the water. You’ll get a pattern with a gradation that doesn’t look like it could’ve been made by human hands!

While we managed to produce a pattern similar to a peacock’s feathers, there are an endless number of designs you can create based on factors like the colors chosen and whether or not you breathed on the water’s surface. It is extremely popular as a souvenir, and you can even have it sent to wherever you'd like (*separate fee from course fees). Feel free to cut it up to make items like name cards and letters!

Yamajuseishi

Located in Nishijima, a mountainous part of Yamanashi Prefecture that is west of Tokyo. This well-established business has been in operation for roughly 400 years, using techniques passed down through generations. Under the lead of the 13th generation owner, Kasai, they have made several innovations - such as Washi paper that can be used in printers - to meet modern needs. Even today, they are still looking for new ways to adapt Nishijima Washi to today's generation.

There are a lot of companies in Japan that have been operating for over 1,000 years. Nishijima Washi is proof of those many years of toil and tradition. The craftsmen who passed on their techniques through many generations and still continue to challenge themselves today can be said to be Japan’s treasures. Please come and view their art with your own eyes!

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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