A washi designer combines huge sheets of washi with lighting to enliven open architectural spaces. Stoles made from dyed, washi-woven textile are the amalgamation of traditional Kyoto chic. An apparel company sells washi clothing and later collects them to make vegetable fertilizer. Daily items made from papier mache-style lacquer using washi enjoy renewed interest for their ability to be repaired for reuse. Discover how Kyoto's traditional skills and culture stretch the potential of washi.
Explosions of water.
"Washi" is innovating as never before.
Our role is to ensure the
continued evolution of washi - as we carry its 1,300-year
history into the future.
Age-old production methods now spur new traditions.
Innovations such as using "washi" thread in kimono create exciting new opportunities.
We enjoy transforming out-of-date
fashion into something new.
Mulberry tree bark is the primary material in "washi" papermaking.
The pulp is removed and strained through multiple processes to create sheets of fine washi.
Washi artisans are committed to expanding the horizons of this handmade paper.
Core Kyoto investigates the daring new paths washi creators are exploring for sustainability.
The sun sets on a summer's eve, and this modern structure glows as though lit by paper lanterns.
The exterior wall incorporates 153 giant sheets of handmade washi.
The flickering draws and captivates onlookers.
Kyoto-based designer and washi creator Horiki Eriko has upended conventional concepts of handmade washi with her unique architectural interiors.
Many of her creations blend washi and lighting, in what she calls "light walls."
Her creative flair challenges the expressive horizons of washi.
Beyond planar boundaries, she also creates 3D washi lighting.
This 28-meter sculpture stretches across a commercial facility.
This electric vehicle debuted at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany.
The entire car, save tires and electrical parts, was washi.
I use washi to create a spatial
atmosphere on one side.
And I consider how to integrate
images from the other side.
I think of it as an environmental
resource that creates lifestyle spaces.
This subterranean Kyoto bar features light walls which soften the ambience.
It is washi made by inlaying silk threads used in Kyoto Nishijin brocade.
Light dimmers play with the colors, reflecting solar and seasonal changes.
We can feel happy or sad
upon entering a washi room.
our changing feelings.
It plays a role in
cleansing the heart.
Echizen, which lies in Fukui Prefecture, is a prominent handmade washi producer.
It is also home to one of Japan's few Shinto sanctuaries dedicated to the deity of paper.
This workshop was founded in 1865.
Horiki first entered its premises on a winter's day when she was 22 and working for a company developing washi products.
She found artisans silently repeating the same task in the freezing cold.
The papermakers were up to their
elbows in painfully icy water, separating raw materials and
I was struck by how
noble this work is.
1,300 years of tradition, handling
a single material day after day.
What an amazing world.
However, demand in quality handmade washi plummeted due to cheap mass production.
Her employer went bankrupt.
Horiki established her own washi brand, impassioned to see the artisans' skills carried over to the next generation.
Her current project is designing for home interior walls.
This measures 2.7 x 2.1 meters - more than twice the size of conventional handmade washi.
Horiki and her staff always work alongside the team of Echizen artisans.
There is no room for error in the next step.
My staff developed drawings and guidelines
for the washi I want to create, yet we have not shared the finer details
with the Echizen team.
So half of the papermakers are
working without a master plan, while we are aiming for
a specific result.
We treasure the 30% random factor
that the process generates.
It enables fabulous,
And that is the wonder
of washi creation.
Many of Horiki's works are made from long strips of mulberry bark.
This allows the material to be worked freely into any sort of pattern.
Horiki invests time in cultivating new skills to fulfill client requests.
Water is flung from straw scrub brushes onto half-dried washi.
This excites the fibers, creating a soft, uneven design of tiny craters.
The half-dried sheet is layered on top of the sheet of mulberry bark strips.
If the fibers dry, they will not adhere, so layering must be swift.
Handmade papermaking is a race against time.
Horiki typically layers three to seven sheets, each with a different design.
Countless tiny bubbles appear in the gaps between the layers of various thicknesses.
Once the washi dries, the bubbles burst, damaging the creation.
Everyone Horiki consulted insisted that her method was impossible.
However, it occurred to her that they could try suctioning the bubbles out.
Turning the paper over, you'll
find a finite number of bubbles.
If you have 10,000,
that will never increase.
Suck out one bubble,
and only 9,999 remain.
If you keep sucking,
that number falls to zero.
It's about spotting the cause
and finding a solution.
The artisans secure the layered washi on a wooden frame to prevent peeling or shrinking.
It is left to dry overnight in a room with uniform temperature and humidity.
This work depicting a waterfall is comprised of seven layers.
Each layer becomes visible when the washi is backlit.
The linear pattern was created using a cloth-like mold on one of the washi layers.
The oblique dark green lines were achieved by placing dyed fibers, resulting in an energetic design.
The pattern created by flinging water expresses the waterfall's spray.
Horiki encloses all her designs between two sheets of white washi.
Artisans believed that white
paper forms a link with deities.
Shrines use sacred rope
and white washi to create - mystical barriers between
the deities and humans.
We work with various
colors and materials.
Sandwiching those between
layers of white washi, we can relate the artisans'
spirituality to later generations.
Floral containers, baskets, and boxes are commonly used in daily life.
All these are covered in washi.
"Ikkanbari" is an art form in which bamboo and wooden objects are covered with layered washi, and finished with astringent persimmon juice and lacquer.
The technique was brought from China by a lacquerer in the 17th century.
These papier-mâche items were treasured in the pre-plastic era as they were sturdy and light.
The art form diverged into the Hikike style, which concentrated on tea utensils, and the Senoshike style, which focused on everyday implements.
Each branch developed its own techniques.
The workshop is run by Onoe Zuihou, a 14th generation "ikkanbari" artisan.
Although washi products have decreased in number, the material is heralded for its eco-friendly characteristics.
You can make almost anything
They apparently even made
Her current project is a small dish made from braided bamboo.
Washi is pasted onto the item using a starch paste.
She tears the paper by hand so that the fibers are directed outward, creating a seamless blend when the sheets overlap.
The front of the dish is covered first, followed by the bottom, then the rim.
When the underlay dries, the final layer of washi is added.
Onoe has chosen Tango-Futamata washi, made in northern Kyoto Prefecture, for her final layer.
It is a sturdy paper with long fibers.
The dense fibers remain strong even with considerable glue, and adapt well to minute irregularities.
Onoe finishes it with astringent persimmon juice, which ensures waterproofing and insect resistance, and acts as a preservative.
The treatment is repeatedly applied on three consecutive days.
The seams are invisible.
The finished work preserves the bamboo shape, while the washi contributes a gentle finish.
Onoe receives requests for "ikkanbari" repairs from across Japan.
She estimates that this basket was originally made some 200 years ago.
She is preparing to breathe new life into the damaged item.
Respecting the feelings of
the creators and the users - is a spiritual element of
the traditional "ikkanbari" technique.
I do my best to repair and
preserve these items.
Zuiun is Onoe's eldest son.
He creates "ikkanbari" artwork suited to today's world.
Zuiun prefers to work with "Kyoto yuzen washi" that is dyed in various patterns.
These accessories include multiple layers of washi featuring elegant patterns.
It's difficult to promote traditional crafts in
this era of mass production and consumption, so I started by creating
accessories for young people.
Zuiun consciously highlights the seams, and finishes his items with a coating of transparent konjac paste.
It's important to convey the value
of things to a wider audience, so we highlight a range of
handicrafts, not just "ikkanbari."
Kurotani is located near the coast of Kyoto Prefecture.
With mountains and pure streams, it has been a production center for handmade washi for some 800 years.
Kurotani welcomes artisans from outside the area, who are fascinated with papermaking.
The handmade washi industry
has continued to decline, but Kurotani established a cooperative
to shoulder the business end.
This allows artisans to
focus on their craft.
The system has long sustained us
and has allowed us to survive.
Yoshino Ayano left Aichi Prefecture to settle here in 1999.
I fell in love with the beauty of
Kurotani washi stationery at first sight.
My desire to create this
pretty paper brought me here.
Young artisans have gathered in Kurotani in recent years to explore new uses for washi.
Kurotani Paper Cloth is one such eye-catching innovation.
The fabric is produced by weaving silk thread with the handmade Kurotani washi.
For centuries, paper cloth was treasured for kimono and other items, but it is no longer produced due to inconvenience and cost.
However, the flexibility and excellent ventilation of Kurotani Paper Cloth offer a light and airy texture.
This washi stole was developed to showcase the merits of Kurotani Paper Cloth and its relative affordability.
Thin washi bearing fine slits is torn into one long strip.
The bobbin is wound while maintaining tautness.
Once securely around the bobbin, the washi strips are twisted into thread.
The washi has knots where
strips are connected.
And there are more knots where
torn strips have been rejoined.
They provide attractive
accents in the fabric.
The weaving is entrusted to a workshop specializing in traditional "Kyoto Tango chirimen" crepe fabric, which has a 300-year history.
Two silk threads twisted together are used for the warp, and Kurotani washi for the weft.
The rough weave allows the fabric to breathe, and the flexible diagonal stretch affords a superior finish.
Both are characteristics of "Tango chirimen."
The thread catches and breaks
in places where there are knots.
Without the thick parts, weaving
would be easy - a real conundrum.
The washi makers made adjustments
to ease the process.
The resulting textile reflects the unique soft feel of washi and the nodulous richness it brings to the fabric.
The fabric undergoes its final step at a dyeing workshop in Kyoto.
The stole is being tie-dyed.
The areas to be left white are bound with yarn.
Both ends of this stole are being tied.
The stole is then dyed indigo blue.
It's paper, so it may crinkle
if handled too roughly.
We are careful with it.
It looks fine.
The dyeing was successful.
When done, the thread is removed to reveal the pattern.
The Kurotani papermakers' vision joins with the best traditions Kyoto has to offer.
Teaming up with Tango weavers and Kyoto
dyers results in more sophisticated products.
Now we must address how to
turn that into a livelihood.
Kyoto's lush rural community of Miyama is known as a production center for heritage Kyoto vegetables.
This year the area is enjoying a bumper crop of summer vegetables, which are fertilized with washi clothing.
Sonobe Hiroshi runs an apparel company in Tokyo.
He once worked in product planning and development for a major Japanese fast fashion retailer.
But, riddled with doubt over mass production and mass waste, he launched his own business in 2017.
He began by developing clothes made from washi, with a vision of a waste-free, clothing-and-food circular system.
The clothing his company sells is later collected and converted to fertilizer, with the resulting vegetables being sold mainly online.
Sonobe believes that the washi used in clothing has great utility value.
Washi naturally blocks
ultraviolet light and deodorizes.
These two functions have long been
indispensable in our daily life.
He chose Miyama in Kyoto for his farm.
The rich natural environment had the ideal temperature and humidity for demonstrating the potential of washi, satisfying all of Sonobe's requirements.
At first, he utilized sheets of recycled clothing, but discovered they took some three months to decompose.
He then tried using a crusher.
Collecting, pulverizing, and turning clothing
into fertilizer enhances its utility value.
Adding organic matter to pulverized washi hastens fermentation.
Sonobe can generate fertilizer in just four weeks, significantly speeding up soil activation.
Sonobe also receives help in the project from other local Miyama farmers.
One visible effect is the increased
sponginess of the soil.
You can see it and feel it.
It took me by surprise.
Washi is amazing.
Sonobe is currently running another experiment.
He is measuring the respective effects of natural and synthetic fibers on soil, when used in fertilizers.
Many countries face the
issue of textile waste.
As we perfect our solution, we hope
to share it from Kyoto to the world.
In 2022, Horiki Eriko delivered a new work for the lobby of this hotel, which stands beside the Kamo River.
It is a light wall made from washi sandwiched between laminated glass.
The multiple layers of washi, which are embedded with silver leaf, emit a restrained yet refined radiance.
Silver leaf is opaque, so shadows appear when it is backlit.
The light's intensity and direction transform the mood, and shift spatial impressions.
The customers check in, and then let's say they go out again at night, when they exit the building, then they see this on dawn, and it's a totally different experience again.
So because of the weather's changing - on cloudy days, sunny days - when they come in, at some time of the day and they go out at another time of the day,
they're always getting a different experience, and this whole hotel, I think that was the real goal - was to have a different experience every time the customer comes.
In 2000, Horiki established a workshop in Kyoto.
The facility is equipped to handle large-scale works of art exceeding 10 meters in length.
Here, Horiki develops innovative techniques ,and trains an upcoming generation of artisans.
Providing user-friendly tools and easy
access to them is key for us to increasing - the number of washi artisans,
propelling tradition into the future.
Then we nurture our innovations to become
traditions themselves in 100 or 200-years' time.
Washi has long helped to sustain life in Kyoto.
Artisans cherish the traditions, and explore innovations into washi's potential, to ensure its future use.