Making traditional washi paper in Japan
While there are only three towns in Japan still traditionally making Washi paper, you can make your own at home.
In the videos bellow, I and my Japanese friend filmed making Washi paper by hand in Tokyo. The Ozu Washi maker and store has existed since 1653, and has a small Washi Experience Studio where you can try your hands on the traditional method. Here, see a step by step method to create your own beautiful sheets of paper. First you need to get the tools and the material. While in Tokyo you can easily shop for these in Nihonbashi, the oldest part of the Edo city, where most Japanese artisanship is still heavily concentrated, you can search online for these tools, but most you will have at home already.
You will need:
- two large trays (cookie baking or roasting trays)
- your desired size (of the paper) rectangular fine-mesh screen with framed borders (Japanese shops in big cities or kitchen stores)
- raw tree pulp – in Japan they traditionally use kozo, a mulberry tree pulp (US source online)
- a bamboo mat at least A4 size, it looks like a maki sushi rolling mat but larger (Japanese shops in big cities or art supply stores)
- wide brush to even the surface of the wet paper (art supply stores)
- electric hair dryer (on a rather low or medium speed)
- standing screen you can put on a painters easel (art supply stores)
- gentle pins to hold your paper hanging for the final drying (office and craft stores)
- decorative embellishments according to your fantasy – crucially they must be dry and flat – a leaf, flower (nature) or colorful hard paper shapes like stars
We used traditional Japanese sugeta molds and kozo, a fine mulberry tree pulp from Japan, elsewhere sourced today mainly from Thailand (as sturdy but less fine). This video above introduces you to the first step when you “fish” for the paper pulp dispensed in the water basin. By shaking gently the pulp is distributed. Watch my friend Ayako in the repeated process.
You can make either a simple plain, Rakusui patterned by putting the paper under a shower or a design paper such as Chiyogami or Yuzen paper by using various templates, shapes cut from hard paper and other tools.
Once you have enough of the evenly distributed pulp on your screen, add your chosen decoration (like a dried leaf and / or flower) if you wish put a fitting bamboo mat over it, flip it, transfer to a tray lined with another clean leaf of washi paper and flip it over so your wet paper with the ornament sticks to the bottom leaf. Watch the video above for more details.
The final part is to dry your freshly made washi. To improvise you can use a magnet screen that can be bought at any paper store. First cover your freshly made creation with a clean sheet of paper much larger than the size of your Washi. Then, use a wide brush to flush away water as on the video bellow. Take an electric hair dryer and fan the clipped hanging washi over. Keep it hanging for some time, an hour or so and than stash on as you wish. At the store, workshop and washi museum in Tokyo (video above) they use a more efficient tool, a vacuum cleaner on a bottom of a flat screen with small holes.
Whether you look to surprise a loved one or impress your children, making your own washi gives you creative freedom. Express the season as I did with inserting dried leaf from the Tokyo Imperial Park, a thin shapely branch or moss in winter or a dried flower from the meadows in spring or summer.
Choose a pattern over the entire surface, make a line or a frame. For those seeking entertainment that teaches you something new, hand-making washi paper at home will be a fun activity for the entire family. Particularly during by the Government imposed lockdown during this Covid pandemic, we need to not just distract ourselves, but to make use of the extra spare time indoors.
If you would like to bind your dried washi papers into a book or a journal, I found this online tutorial very instructive:
Making recycled paper yourself
For even a more ecological but not as pure-looking paper recycle you used paper from the waste at home, blend it and continue according to my Washi videos above. Optionally, the Eco Deaz website has a great post on how to make your own recycled paper at home. You can bleach it more ecologically with vinegar. The article alarmingly points out on the “use of numerous toxic chemicals to make the pulp. These chemicals enhance the quality of paper but produce harmful by-products like bleach in the form of hydrogen peroxide and sodium hydrosulfite. This is topped off with costs of transportation harmful residual waste like sludge” in the mass-produced paper. We still use paper in spite of most of our writing being digitalised, so it is thoughtful to choose wisely.
Paper art and home decor
You can venture as far as creating art or useful home decorations such as paper lamps from your own homemade Washi paper. If you are naturally gifted and patient, I encourage you to pursue this paper craft. On Pinterest, I found some beautiful inspiration by Jawa Girl for you. There is no limit to your creativity!
Natural dying paper techniques
There are also plenty of videos on YouTube on how to dye paper with tea or coffee brew, but beware their instructions are for sturdy printing grade paper, not handmade Washi which is way more fragile for further soaking.
At par with a long walk in nature or shinrin yoku, actively learning is my favorite feel-good choice when everything else is not possible. Be proud on your crafty hands and boost your self-confidence into the new year. Bound into a personal journal this made-by-me or made by someone who cares about me (hence the time spent making such a gift) infuses love into the time you spent writing into it.