Aoya is a small town in the prefecture of Tottori, Japan. Facing the Sea of Japan, the town has been prosperous since ancient times. The paper produced in this area is called Inshu washi, dating back more than 1,200 years.
After World War II, the proliferation of office machines and rapid changes in lifestyle caused a devastating blow to Inshu washi production. To counter this decline, Inshu washi production shifted to specialty calligraphy, craft, and dyed papers. There are currently four handmade-paper studios and eleven mechanized papermaking factories, a paper museum, and the Washi Kobo papermaking workshop.
In 2003 The Paper Mill Museum of Capellades and the Llotja School of Arts & Crafts in Barcelona contacted a group of hand papermakers in Aoya. From 2003 to 2010 we organized several visits and workshops between Aoya–Barcelona–Capellades. The first workshops took place in Barcelona and Capellades in 2003 with the visit of Aoya paper masters Hasegawa Norito, Nishimura Shingo, and Nakahara Tsuyoshi.1 In the same year I traveled to Aoya, hosted in a Shinto temple, Washi Kobo director Go Wakaki, and by the Tamaguchi papermaking family. I have lots of good memories from my time there, visiting several papermaking facilities, both handmade and machine mills, and practicing washi papermaking at the studios of the three papermakers who visited us. For all three families, there is solid hope for a new generation of papermakers.
Nakahara Corporation started in 1947, specializing in papers for calligraphy and large paper for custom orders. They use Thai kozo, Philippine gampi, and pulps from Russia. Many of their customers are Tottori wholesalers. Recently they have been receiving an increasing number of direct orders from individual governments and companies. Nakahara Tsuyoshi’s son Kanji is now 43 years old. He studied mechanical engineering at Nagoya Institute of Technology. He also participated in a training program offered by the Tottori prefectural government for traditional techniques, and during that time he learned papermaking for one year at the Nishimura paper studio. Kanji has chosen to continue the family tradition. “I see and know our family business from childhood in our daily life, so it’s natural,” said Kanji. “I am especially glad when I do a good job and bring out the fine characteristics of natural materials.”
Established in 1925, the Hasegawa paper mill produces a large range of dyed papers for calligraphy, art, and restoration work by museums. They employ kozo, mitsumata, and gampi fibers from Japan and the Philippines. The family operation will be continued by Hasegawa Yukata who is now 32 years old. He studied science at Okayama University and learned hand papermaking at home. “I like that I am an artisan,” said Yukata. “This is our roots…I feel that making paper is a part of my life since childhood.”
The Nishimura paper mill (where Nakahara Kanji studied), dates from 1925 and specializes in making surface-sized paper of kozo, mitsumata, and gampi from Japan and other imported fibers. Nishimura Shingo, who runs the mill with his wife, has had to stop because of medical problems. They have no sons, but a nephew, Nishimura Yuya, 29 years old, has shown interest in making paper. He also participated in the Tottori traditional techniques training and learned papermaking for one year at the Nakahara paper studio. When asked if he would like to be a craftsman, he answered, “I am not sure, because I have just started to learn how to make paper. I hope I can make many kinds of paper as soon as possible.”
Lately I have been wondering: Is there a future for new hand papermakers? Will they be able to make a living from their work? We know hand papermaking is hard work, and physically demanding—you realize this when looking at your hands and feeling your shoulders. As with any craft, papermaking takes time and dedication to learn. The Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi wrote: “Between strength and softness, the hand finds and the mind answers. This is a skill that I can’t explain with words.”2 The self-motivation and commitment that Zhuangzi refers to is what I see in Nakahara Kanji, Hasegawa Yukata, and Nishimura Yuya. I congratulate and encourage these three young men to assure the transmission of an ancient and beautiful craft to the next generation. I invite them to come back to Barcelona and Capellades to share their enthusiasm to help keep our papermaking waterwheels running in Spain!
1. The Aoya papermakers were accompanied by Hiroshi Oe of the Tottori Prefectural Office and Go Wakaki, the former director of the Washi Kobo.
Anna Comellas and Maria Lucas from the Llotja School provided much support and collaboration.
2. Translated into English from a Spanish translation of the original Chinese, as quoted in Jean François Billeter, Cuatro Lecturas sobre Zhuangzi (Madrid: Editorial Siruela, 2003).