Nowadays, there are several places you can try a washi workshop, even in Tokyo. But there are only three places in the whole of Japan with the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage recognition for their traditional handmade washi paper. In Shimane prefecture it is Sekishubun paper, in Gifu prefecture it is Honmino paper and in Saitama; Hokosawa Paper. The latter, Saitama, is close to and commutable from Tokyo.
Hokosawa Paper, an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Property, is most commonly associated with the village of Higashi Chichibu and the town of Ogawa. But it also has a long history in the neighboring town of Tokigawa. It is in Tokigawa that I had my first experience of making washi on a press tour with Hikijin (Hiki area Ambassadors) and Tobu Top Tours.
Hokosawa paper is the strongest of all washi paper. It is made entirely from Kozo Mulberry tree, which is what gives it its strength. Due to the use of Mulberry and the process in making this particular type of washi it is best made in winter. Years ago it was made in rivers, but nowadays it is made in purpose built studios like the one at Tesuki Washi Tanino.
Tesuki Washi Tanino
Tesuki Washi Tanino is located on a quiet hillside pass in the rural area of Tokigawa, close to the eponymous Toki River. The natural water, fresh air and rural landscape provide the perfect setting for the washi Atelier. The atelier is run by the Tanino’s.
We worked with both during our class, but Mrs Tanino is the very formidable class instructor and washi ambassador. Mrs Tanino passionately and diligently taught us, as much as time allowed, about washi paper and paper making.
Hiroko Tanino is one of 11 certified washi artisans. For her tireless contributions to washi promulgation, she has been awarded the esteemed titles of “Master of Traditional Craft of Saitama Prefecture” and “Qualified Craft worker award of Saitama Prefecture”.
We were a large group of 20 on a tight press tour schedule, so what we experienced was an abbreviated version of the usual workshop. First we had a very informative general lecture on washi and the traditional hand making process.
Next we were shown how the mulberry is stripped. It is treated first, so the staff member could actually peel off the outer layer like it was a banana! After we were shown all the subsequent steps in preparing the pulp, including the all important penultimate step using the strainer to layer the pulp. Which incidentally has one other ingredient (to mulberry) used to help gel the pulp – a type of root plant that looks similar to ginger.
Washi paper making process
- Harvesting the mulberry
- Steaming the shoots
- Stripping the bark
- Scraping the bark (as above)
- Boiling the bark
- Washing and bleaching the bark
- Pounding the bark to make the pulp
- Making the paper
- 8a. Adding decoration
- Drying the washi
After the demonstrations we were invited to pick some things from the garden to put in our own unique washi paper. Then we took turns using the special strainer to pick up the barely visible skin thin veils of paper. It almost looks like you’re only catching smoke in the strainer. We had a friendly aide to help us get the rhythm right and direct us on the right method to create the veil on the bamboo strainer.
The paper was then laid on a sheer gauze where we decorated it with the bits we’d picked up in the garden. Then we took turns once again to create the next layer, even thinner than the last, to be placed on top of the first layer. And voila, our master pieces were ready to dry. It takes a few days so our original washi paper will be sent on to us in the post next week.
Washi workshop impressions
Thanks to taking part in the washi workshop with the Tanino’s, I can appreciate the intricacies of and skill involved in making washi paper. I really recommend a workshop like this (with a certified artisan) to anyone curious about traditional practices and / or hands on experiences in Japan. It may also be of interest to anyone who has a love of paper.
Another pro of taking the washi workshop is that it really drove home how important it is to keep the ancient tradition of washi paper making alive. And seeing the workers in Tesuki Washi Tanino and hearing about the efforts in Ogawa Town and Higashi Chichibu village gives me great hope that there is a secure future for washi in the Hiki area of Saitama.
The Tanino’s have a really beautiful English website. And you can also read about Book Artist Martine Patoux’s internship with the Tanino’s here (click).
Tesuki Washi Tanino Information
|Address:||42 Momonoki, Tokigawa, Hiki District, Saitama 355-0361|
|Cost:||Request quote by contact|
|Online:||Official (beautiful) English website|
Washi Workshop Tokigawa Access
Myokaku station is a very picturesque station on the JR Hachiko line which connects Hachioji in Tokyo with Takasaki in Gunma. A lot of the line is very scenic travelling through rice fields and hillside towns. You can walk from Myokaku station. It takes about 26 minutes on foot. But you can also get a bus from the station to “Momonoki bus stop”, which is about a three minute walk from the atelier.
By car the nearest highway exits are Higashimatsuyama and Tsurugashima, both on the Kanetsu expressway. Both about a 35 minute drive from the Tanino’s. The atelier is located next to Tokigawa Junior High School which is a good land mark for your route.
Other things to do in Tokigawa;
The award winning Showa Retro Tamagawa Hot springs is very close to the Tanino Atelier. If you don’t have time to take a bath, you can get some take away onsen water to bring home with you!
Want to stay overnight? How about glamping by the Toki River? Or in a comfortable trendy lodge. At Comoriver you can do either, or you can just enjoy a nice lunch in a comfortable and chic cafe on the grounds.
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Coming up next: Saitama’s oldest house!