In Photos: Traditional Japanese Najio-Gampi-shi 雁皮紙 Washi Paper Making 和紙

Gampi-shi washi paper making moulds hang at Tanina Takenobu’s Nishinomiya-Najio studio in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. 雁皮紙
Baskets and molds at the washi studio.

While in Japan, I was fortunate to take a tour to Nishinomiya-Najio in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan in 2018 with the Community House Information Center in Kobe to witness traditional Japanese washi-making at Tanitoku Seishisyo, the studio of Tanina Takenobu, who specializes in making Najio-Gampi-shi washi. Takenobu Tanino was designated as a living national treasure in 2002 and passed the artisanship on to his son, Masanabu Tanina, who gave us a demonstration of the process, which uses mud to make the washi paper robust, prevent color fading and repel insects. The paper is used in Important Cultural Properties including Nijo Castle, Nishi Hongan-ji, Katsura Imperial Villa and other Imperial villas in Nikko and Numazu. Today, their paper is indispensable for the restoration of National Treasures of Japan.

Traditional Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper-making process 雁皮紙
Washi paper-making moulds hang at Tanina Takenobu’s Nishinomiya-Najio studio in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

As a poet and writer I’ve been obsessed with papermaking and bookmaking for years. I love how these arts are integrated into Japanese spirituality, as I discovered with shodo, Japanese calligraphy. I made my first handmade book when I was in the fourth grade and never stopped. I even taught my kids to make paper when they were 4-years old; and taught papermaking, bookmaking and storytelling at their Montessori school.

雁皮紙
Artwork of historical process of paper-making in Nijio.

People often used to ask me, why on earth would I make paper? Or bread, or grow your own tomatoes, when you can just buy it in the store? The Brother’s Grimm fairy tale of The Handless Maiden explains that machines sacrifice something in us if we don’t do it ourselves manually. Handmade paper always reminds me of the value of handmade items beyond a monetary unit in a system designed around values of efficiency rather than contemplation.

Traditional Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper-making process
Tanina Takenobu’s son, Masanabu Tanina, stirs the pulp before using a mould to pull a piece of washi paper.

As the root word of machine comes from the Greek meaning trick. Machines and technology are amazing, yet they can isolate, alienate and dehumanize. Slow-food and artisan culture preserve the humanities for civilization to flourish and survive the machine that has been commodifying our lives by flattening out and destroying our normally deep relationship to nature that the Japanese revere so much.

Traditional Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper-making process 雁皮紙
Wildcrafting is involved in making Najio-gampi-shi washi paper, as the materials for the paper and dye are collected by hand from a deciduous shrub . The pigment is collected from rocks.

Gampi is a slow-growing bush from the Wikstroemia family that provides the raw material for making 雁皮紙 Gampi-shi washi paper. It can’t be cultivated so must be collected in the wild. Mud is collected and filtered in a cotton bag. Only filtered fine mud is used for making paper, whose color depends on the shade of mud. Mud usually sinks in water. However, the mountain water of Najio helps mix pulp and water evenly. In Najio, papermaking began in the Muramachi period, and by the middle of the Edo period, small paper mills in the area numbered 1,000, which is where Najio gets its name, najio senken literally means meaning a thousand workshops in Najio.

Traditional Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper-making process Sydney Solis pulls a piece of paper. 雁皮紙
Me, using a mold and deckle to pull a piece of washi paper from the pulp. 和紙. The Kanji for washi includes the character ”wa” which means ”peace” and the Japanese. “Shi” means paper.

While Kouzo papers made from mulberry were introduced from China, Gampi papers originated in Japan. Moreover, Najio-shi draws attention for its unexceptional, unique and oldest papermaking method called tamesuki, which was not introduced in other parts of Japan. The artisan process is remarkable, taking pain-staking tedious and time-consuming work that produces something of extraordinary value in a world made over in globalist hegemony of consumerism and mass-production that came to Japan post World War II.

Traditional Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper-making process 雁皮紙
Couching washi paper after dipped in pulp with a mold and deckle.
Traditional Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper-making process
Couched Gampi-shi washi paper envelopes drying. Gampi-shi paper is smooth, strong and excellent for printmaking.
Traditional Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper-making process used for wrapping gifts.
Beautiful packaging using Gampi-shi washi paper. Paper in Japan is considered a noble element, strong but at the same as fragile as life itself and has become the perfect mediator between humans and gods. Numerous Japanese words in Japan are associated with paper.
Handmade books from Gampi-shi washi paper, Japan.
Handmade books from Gampi-shi washi paper, including a Goshuin-Cho.
Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper.
Washi paper, including wave design washi that is hundreds of years old.
Hand made paper Gampi-shi in Japan.
Racks of washi paper on sale in the studio.
Beautiful washi paper is used in making shoji screens and fushumi partitions.
Traditional Japanese Gampi-shi washi paper-making process
Checking out all the amazing hand made paper.
Moulds to make washi paper.
Moulds hanging.

2 thoughts on “In Photos: Traditional Japanese Najio-Gampi-shi 雁皮紙 Washi Paper Making 和紙

  1. Great post! Interestingly, this reminded me of an article I read years ago about Japanese denim. The same dedication and tediousness in producing Japanese denim is also present in this washi-making process you wrote about, resulting in an item that fulfills both function and aesthetics.

    Liked by 1 person

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