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The Art of Japanese paper making

Washi means Japanese paper (wa=japanese, shi=paper) and it is such a beautiful and unique craft that UNESCO considers it to be part of Japans cultural heritage. Knowledge is passed down generation after generation from master paper maker to apprentice, preserving thus the original process with respect to tradition.

Historically washi paper has had numerous applications in Japanese life. From the fancy origami sheets to gift wrapping paper. Those beautiful fans and umbrellas printed with designs of flowers and rural landscapes. Sliding doors and window screens are traditionally lined with washi paper.

The earliest produced paper (as early as the 7th century) was used for Buddhist scripture and later in poetry. However during the Edo period with the art of ukiyo-e (woodblock printing) it entered the realm of art.



Washi is a wood pulp paper, traditionally made manually, from the barks of either Kozo (mulberry), gampi or mitsumata, grown in Japan, with the Kozo bark being the most widely used.

In comparison to western wood pulp papers, Washi exceeds in durability due to the length of its fiber which are considerably longer.

Today, due to the worldwide demand there is also machine made paper, while raw material can be imported from trees grown in other Asian countries.

This means when you visit a store that offers japanese paper you will find several qualities of Kozo paper or Gampi paper that may be machine made, using japanese tree barks, or machine made by foreign tree barks along the original completely manually made paper by japanese bark.

The craft of Washi making takes long and is based on detail and precision, and since its made entirely by hand it is a process that caries tradition in it’s design.

The barks are cleared off their exterior and boiled. After the wood is cleansed of impurities in cold running water it is then beaten with a wooden mallet in order for the fibers to separate, turning it into pulp. The pulp is mixed with a gelatinous material made out of the roots of the tororo aoi plant, which helps the fibers spread evenly. A large screen is used to spread the fibers evenly on it to form the sheets that are then stacked on top of each other. They are then pressed over night. The next day they are separated and dried under the sun lying on wooden boards.


A few types of Washi

This beautiful yet durable kind of paper was eventually met with silkscreen printing and with designs inspired by kimono fabrics, Japanese paper makers created Chiyogami. Washi made by Kozo fiber is being silkscreened by hand using pigment based ink. Each layer needs to be completely dry before the next one is applied over it and since some designs have up to 5 layers, they have to be applied with utmost precision. The wonderful result is synonymous with Japanese aesthetic, cherished and sought after all over the world.

Another technique is Katazome-shi. Katazome is the technique of stencilling fabric with resist dying. So since shi means paper, Katazome-shi is the equivalent of this technique on Kozo paper.

Washi can be as thin as tissue and its uses are primarily for conservation. The thin but durable tissue is used for mending tears on paper or even reinforcing it in its entirety. It can also repair book hinges but its also used in bookbinding as its durability can reinforce the spine.

There are several different kinds of Washi! Not only are they made by different

fibres but they also result in numerous variations in process, uses and techniques applied on them like the few mentioned above.

For art lovers and those who appreciate traditional crafts Washi is definitely one of mans' most delicate creations. Whether you want to use it to decorate your house, take your crafts to another level or simply collect it, washi is one of the things that earns immediate appreciation for its quality and beauty.



-Watch this UNESCO video on the process of washi making.

-I found the white kozo paper at Batis Art.

-All the pictures I took of the beautiful coloured washi papers on this article I got from The Japanese Paper Place


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