Field Trip: Washi Papermaking in Japan

When my husband and I discovered that there was an entire region in Japan dedicated to the craft of papermaking, we knew we wanted to spend part of our honeymoon visiting. Deep in the northern part of Fukui province the town of Echizen is known as the “land of washi” and has a rich history of producing paper that dates back to at least AD 774.

We travelled by train and bus through the countryside of Fukui to get to Echizen. When we passed manhole cover emblems depicting papermakers in action and small rivers running milky-white with mulberry pulp, we knew we had arrived.

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Our first stop was the Museum of Paper & Culture where we wandered through rooms filled with all the types and colors of washi that have ever been made. They also featured works of art from renowned washi artisans.

Our next stop was Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum where you can see a live demonstration from local artisans in a reconstructed papermaker’s house from 1748. I loved seeing the entire process from the original kozo plant harvest and tools to how it’s made into a pulp and then skillfully sifted into sheets of paper.

  Stages of the kozo plant

Stages of the kozo plant

  Separating the kozo fibers

Separating the kozo fibers

  Into the mold

Into the mold

  Sheets of washi ready to dry

Sheets of washi ready to dry

We also got to make our own paper at the “Papyrus House” where they have a whole set-up with sinks full of paper pulp and molds and elements for decorating your paper, like dried flowers, dyes and gold and silver leaf. A special note: if you make and send a postcard from Echizen you can get the special postmark that showcases the papermaking town symbol.

  Choose from the many decorative elements all beautifully laid out!

Choose from the many decorative elements all beautifully laid out!

  Placing the delicate dried florals.

Placing the delicate dried florals.

  Our finished postcard, ready to send out. Love how the gold glistens in the sun!

Our finished postcard, ready to send out. Love how the gold glistens in the sun!

  The special postmark showcasing the town symbol of the papermaker.

The special postmark showcasing the town symbol of the papermaker.

The trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the local temple dedicated to the papermaking goddess “Kawakami Gozen.” Legend has it that she came down from the heavens 1500 years ago to teach the people in the region how to make paper. Since there wasn’t rich soil to support rice fields the skill of papermaking was truly like a gift from above. We found the temple just before sunset, nestled in a pine forest at the edge of town. It was incredible to experience the beautiful art of washi papermaking up close and I’m very thankful that the people of this town continue to share its traditions with everyone.