Photos: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

Washi is a traditionally handmade Japanese paper that uses strands from three plants to create sheets known for their textures, warmth and absorption. Inscribed on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list, washi paper finds use in everyday things like clothing, art, printing and décor, to religious rituals and creating statues of Buddha. Hiroyoshi Chinzei, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, is creating washi with a unique purpose that may help revive interest -- both at home and abroad.

UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2019 04:12 PM IST 7 Photos
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Hidaka Washi president Hiroyoshi Chinzei, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, displaying the world's thinnest paper at his factory in Hidaka, Kochi prefecture, southwest of Tokyo. Once an indispensable part of daily life in Japan, ultra-thin washi paper was used for everything from writing and painting to lampshades, umbrellas, and sliding doors, but demand has plunged as lifestyles have become more westernised. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

Hidaka Washi president Hiroyoshi Chinzei, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, displaying the world's thinnest paper at his factory in Hidaka, Kochi prefecture, southwest of Tokyo. Once an indispensable part of daily life in Japan, ultra-thin washi paper was used for everything from writing and painting to lampshades, umbrellas, and sliding doors, but demand has plunged as lifestyles have become more westernised. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2019 04:12 PM IST
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The plant called kozo, or mulberry, used for Japanese traditional "washi" paper manufacturing, at the Hidaka Washi factory. Despite its 1,300-year history and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, washi paper is struggling to attract consumers and the market value has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past two decades. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

The plant called kozo, or mulberry, used for Japanese traditional "washi" paper manufacturing, at the Hidaka Washi factory. Despite its 1,300-year history and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, washi paper is struggling to attract consumers and the market value has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past two decades. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2019 04:12 PM IST
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A worker boiling kozo plants at the beginning of the papermaking process at the Hidaka Washi factory. Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries -- including the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum and Washington’s Library of Congress -- from decay. “Washi paper is more flexible and durable” than what Japanese refer to as “western paper”, which disintegrates into tiny pieces when it becomes very old, Chinzei said. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

A worker boiling kozo plants at the beginning of the papermaking process at the Hidaka Washi factory. Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries -- including the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum and Washington’s Library of Congress -- from decay. “Washi paper is more flexible and durable” than what Japanese refer to as “western paper”, which disintegrates into tiny pieces when it becomes very old, Chinzei said. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2019 04:12 PM IST
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The papermaking process begins with steaming the kozo plants and peeling off the bark, which is then boiled until soft, while impurities are removed by hand in clear water. The fibres are then beaten and mixed with glue and water, before being placed on a wooden screen. Because washi is hard to break, damaged, old documents can be reinforced by attaching a piece of washi or sandwiching them between two sheets of the paper, Chinzei explained. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

The papermaking process begins with steaming the kozo plants and peeling off the bark, which is then boiled until soft, while impurities are removed by hand in clear water. The fibres are then beaten and mixed with glue and water, before being placed on a wooden screen. Because washi is hard to break, damaged, old documents can be reinforced by attaching a piece of washi or sandwiching them between two sheets of the paper, Chinzei explained. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2019 04:12 PM IST
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According to the industry ministry, the total value of handmade washi dropped to 1.78 billion yen in 2016 from 4.15 billion yen in 1998, while that of washi for calligraphy and shoji sliding screens fell to 5.86 billion yen from 25.1 billion yen. “Old Japanese books from the seventh or eighth century remain in good condition... thanks to the fibres of the kozo plants,” the washi maker said. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

According to the industry ministry, the total value of handmade washi dropped to 1.78 billion yen in 2016 from 4.15 billion yen in 1998, while that of washi for calligraphy and shoji sliding screens fell to 5.86 billion yen from 25.1 billion yen. “Old Japanese books from the seventh or eighth century remain in good condition... thanks to the fibres of the kozo plants,” the washi maker said. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2019 04:12 PM IST
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A worker checking a roll of the world's thinnest "washi" paper. Using both machines and hand-made techniques passed down for generations, the firm creates ultra-thin paper, which is also used by conservationists to restore and protect cultural objects. The volume of washi used for restoration is still small, but it’s been shipped to more than 40 countries and Chinzei is hopeful interest will grow. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

A worker checking a roll of the world's thinnest "washi" paper. Using both machines and hand-made techniques passed down for generations, the firm creates ultra-thin paper, which is also used by conservationists to restore and protect cultural objects. The volume of washi used for restoration is still small, but it’s been shipped to more than 40 countries and Chinzei is hopeful interest will grow. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2019 04:12 PM IST
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Chinzei didn’t plan on taking over his family trade and went to business school in Seattle to study finance. “But I came back... because I felt responsible for passing the baton to the next generation,” he said, hoping to find ways to expand the market. He explained: “For restoring cultural assets and as a canvas for art... I think washi has the potential to be used more in the world of art.” (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

Chinzei didn’t plan on taking over his family trade and went to business school in Seattle to study finance. “But I came back... because I felt responsible for passing the baton to the next generation,” he said, hoping to find ways to expand the market. He explained: “For restoring cultural assets and as a canvas for art... I think washi has the potential to be used more in the world of art.” (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2019 04:12 PM IST
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