Try Japanese Paper "Washi" Making the Traditional Hands-on Way in Hinode, Tokyo (50% Coupon Available!)
Want to learn more about Japanese culture? Try a washi paper-making workshop! You'll make souvenirs that you can bring home, and with thousands of years of history, there's no better way to dig deep into Japan. This article showcases a workshop in Hinode, a small town in Tokyo Prefecture far removed from the urban city center, that's one of the few to still do things the old, traditional way. If that sounds interesting, keep reading for more info on this workshop, as well as how you can get 50% off the experience (available only for the first 20 bookings)!
Jul 02 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
* This article was made in collaboration with Voyagin.
What Is Washi?
Washi is a type of paper that is made from the fibers of the inner bark of the gampi tree, misumata shrub, or paper mulberry (kozo) bush. Washi is generally hand-made, even in modern times, with techniques that have been passed down for over 1,000 years.
Washi has a long history in Japan of being used as the medium for other treasured artforms, such as origami, shodo (calligraphy), and ukiyo-e (woodblock printing). As hand-made washi is often too rough for writing on in the same way as mass produced paper, it is generally used for artistic and decorative purposes, such as for household goods, crafts, toys, and more.
Machine-made washi also exist, and its smoother surface and thinness make it perfect for origami, writing letters, or being turned into washi tape, which has gathered a lot of popularity recently overseas.
Experience Making Washi Yourself in Hinode, Tokyo
For those who want to experience washi-making for themselves during their stay in Japan, tour provider Voyagin has a variety of hands-on, washi-related tours available, including one in the idyllic area of Hinode, Tokyo.
On this tour, you will get to experience traditional Japanese paper making techniques by making two washi crafts using local materials gathered from around the atelier. In addition to learning about Japanese history and culture and touring the beautiful atelier grounds, you will get to unleash your creativity in producing your very own washi paper that you get to take home with you and keep forever.
**50% OFF FOR THE FIRST 20 PEOPLE THAT BOOK THROUGH TSUNAGU JAPAN! Enter the code "tsunaguwashi2019" at time of checkout**
How to Get There
The village of Hinode can be accessed in approximately one hour via train from central Tokyo. To get to the atelier, take a JR Chuo Line train from Tokyo to Musashi-Itsukaichi Station. From there, your washi instructor will pick you up via car and take you the rest of the way.
Note that the Chuo Line splits into two at Haijima Station, so make sure that you are boarded on a train headed towards Musashi-Itsukaichi and not Ome.
Going home is more straightforward, as all trains leaving from Musashi-Itsukaichi Station head towards central Tokyo.
Tour the Atelier
Before you get your hands dirty making washi, the instructor will give you a tour of the atelier and its surroundings. While this tour, as well as the hands-on instruction that follows, are performed entirely in Japanese, the instructor has prepared a variety of English-language materials to help foreigners understand.
Located atop a small hill next to the atelier, you will find a grove of paper mulberry bushes. These very bushes provide the bark used to make the washi produced at this atelier. Generally, the bushes are cut down and used for washi when they are around one year old. The bushes seen above are only 6 months old, so they still have a ways to go!
You can tell paper mulberry bushes by the distinctive shape of their leaves.
There is also a rustic well on the premises! You'll see how this well is used for the washi-making experience later on.
Step 1: Scraping and Peeling the Bark
After a brief lecture about the history of washi and the washi-making process, you'll get right down to work. The first step is to take some paper mulberry bark that has been soaking in water and scrape away the rough outer layer. It is only the white inner layer that gets used to turn into washi.
First, scrape away the bottom 5cm of the strip of bark.
Then, you can grab onto it and peel the rest off!
Unfortunately, this peeling technique won't get rid of 100% of the outer bark (unless you get lucky), so you will have to keep scraping away until all the dark bits are gone.
At the end, you will be left with a beautiful strip of white inner bark! You can see it on the right of the picture above, with all the scraps piled into the bowl on the left.
Step 2: Pounding the Pulp
The next step is to pound the bark and break it down into thin fibers, but before that the bark has to be softened.
Most places will soften the bark by boiling it for around two hours. This atelier is different in that it soaks the bark for around one week in room-temperature water instead. After being soaked, the bark has a very soft texture and can be easily ripped by hand.
The instructor will prepare a ball of bark pulp for each participant to pound with wooden mallets on small stumps.
It takes 5-10 minutes of intense pounding to turn the pulp into a mass of tiny fibers. If the fibers are too large, the washi paper will be especially bumpy and coarse, so the finer the better!
This is what the pulp looks like about halfway through the pounding process. You can still see some long fibers in there, so you can tell it's not quite finished.
Still, it's hard to believe this used to be the bark of a sturdy bush!
Step 3: Rinsing the Pulp
This is where the well comes in! The pounded pulp has to be rinsed of any impurities before it can be turned into washi.
Have you ever drawn the water out of a well? It's not as easy as it looks, but it's great excercise as well as being a great way to get fresh, clear water.
Fill the bucket about halfway with water and then put in the pulp.
Swish it around with your hand until all the fibers are evenly dispersed in the water.
Drain the water and fiber mixture through a fine sieve. Then, fill up the bucket with fresh water and repeat this process one more time.
On the left is a ball of pulp that hasn't been rinsed, and on the right is a ball of pulp after rinsing. As you can see, the one on the right has a much lighter color.
Step 4: Making the Washi
With all that work out of the way, it's finally time to make your washi products. In this experience, participants get to make a washi lampshade as well as a colorful sheet of washi paper.
Let's see how it's done!
Project 1: Washi Lampshades
The process for making washi lampshades is pretty simple.
A mixture of water, pulp, and neri (a plant-based lubricant that keeps the mixture from clumping together) is poured over a towel placed over a mesh grate. The pulp collects on the towel and will dry to form the lampshade.
The reason a towel is used is that its rough surface will give texture to the finished product.
Once all the mixture is poured over the towel, you need to roll it up into a thin tube.
Then squeeze out all the water with all your might!
The lampshade takes a week to dry, so the instructor will provide dry ones for participants to use for the rest of the activity. Don't worry, all your work won't go to waste! Participants can take the towel with the washi mixture inside home with them to do whatever they please with it once it is done drying.
The instructor also provides cute electric lamps around which to wrap the washi lampshades.
How you choose to wrap your lampshade around the lamp is up to you. Try to be creative with it!
And here is the finished product. It's pretty cute, don't you think?
The lights inside are electric, so there is no danger of the washi paper catching fire or getting darkened by smoke.
Project 2: Washi Paper Sheet
For the 2nd project, you will create a colorful sheet of washi paper. This is where you can really unleash your imagination and creativity.
The process for this starts out the same as for the lampshade, although this time you are pouring the pulp mixture over a mesh grate instead of a towel. This will give the finished product a smoother surface.
After laying down an initial layer of white, you can start adding colors. The colors that you add are actually comprised of dyed pulp fibers suspended in clear water. The water falls through the grate and collects in the tub, with the colorful fibers remaining on top.
If you want to add hard lines to your design, you can use strings like above in order to keep the colorful fiber mixtures from running all over the place.
How you design your washi paper is truly up to you! Are you going to go simplistic or elaborate? Are you going to be abstract or draw a specific shape or picture? With the mesh grate as your canvas, go wild and show the instructor and your fellow participants your skills!
When you are satisfied with your washi paper's design, it's time to transfer it on to a board to dry. The instructor will help you with this process, as it is a bit complicated.
Once the washi is fully transfered to the wooden board, the instructor will put it into a plastic bag to make for easy carrying for your return journey. Once you get back to your home or hotel, you will want to take it out of the plastic and then let it sit for two days in the open air to dry.
Book Your Own Washi Making Experience Now!
Touring around popular sightseeing spots is fun, but there's nothing quite like taking part in a hands-on cultural experience like this during your travels to Japan! Be sure to take part in this Voyagin experience, or one of their many other tours and experiences, to have the best Japan trip ever.
Tour Price: 10,000 JPY
Includes: Transportation to and from Musashi-Itsukaichi Station (from the atelier) and the materials for two washi crafts
What to Bring: Lunch, bottle drinks, hand towel (separate from the hand towel provided for the lampshade craft), clothes & sneakers that can get wet and dirty
**50% OFF FOR THE FIRST 20 PEOPLE THAT BOOK THROUGH TSUNAGU JAPAN! Enter the code "tsunaguwashi2019 at time of checkout**
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.