Paper: one of those simple parts of life that gets more impressive the more you think about it.
Sure, we all know at some level that these sheets strewn about us are made of trees, and that there’s some sort of mulching process that goes into it, and that once the sheets are done you can print on it, cut it, or fold it to bring forth and array of shapes.
But what if I told you paper can hold water, last a thousand years, and remain aesthetically pleasing?
You can enjoy a nice read about the value and craftsmanship of paper on this Japan Times article by Mark Brazil. This, of course, this is a San’in region blog, and the San’in region is not the only one with a strong paper tradition. However, it is home to Abe Eishiro (1902-1984), the first washi (Japanese paper) maker to be designated as a Living National Treasure. Although the washi traditional existed many centuries before he did, he is credited with the creation of Izumo Mingeishi: Izumo region folk craft paper.
Although I say Izumo, I’m referring most specifically to the Yakumo area, which used to be its own village before being merged with Matsue in 2005. The Abe Eishiro Memorial Museum is one of many charms tucked around the Yakumo mountains, and in addition to the museum space and visitor workshop area, the Abe family continues to produce Izumo Mingeishi according to Abe Eishiro’s methods.
Throughout Japan, washi is typically made of different types of mulberry bark, and here in the Izumo region it is made with three types: Ganpi, Mitsumata, and Kouzo.
Ganpi: Considered king of paper materials, this materials won’t have color changes, wards of bugs, and repels water, but the bark takes 20 years to mature.
Mitsumata: paper made with Mitsumata can be used for many purposes, including printing.
A Mitsumata plant on the premises.
Kouzo: most commonly used washi material, as it is very strong–a key characteristic of washi.
Kouzo on the premises.
The article linked above goes into more detail about the length process of turning this bark into paper, which is dependant on the cold, clear water of this region to wash the materials of the various softening agents added to the boiling and mulching processes. Eventually, the bark is ground into mulches like this one that has no color added.
However, when you add color to the paper, it makes it look like the water itself is what holds the dye. This is an illusion, as even when making black paper, the water comes out clear.
They typically take orders for paper, which will determine how much material they use. Here, they are working on an order of black paper, and the craftsman is paying attention to the thickness of the pile as he works. The ingredients are measured out for a particular number of sheets, so if he’s only made a quarter of the sheets and used half the material, he knows he’s been making them too thick (though I’m sure he probably notices sooner than this). He works with mesmerizing rhythm, but still smilingly explains he work to onlookers.
The company workshop is around the corner and a short stroll among the neighborhood and rice fields from the museum, and I’ll focus more of the atmosphere on the museum and surrounding area in my next entry about this topic.
Yes, that’s Abe Eishiro up on the wall, and Izumo Mingeishi all over the window. There are more surprises on that window…