Types of Plants used to make Washi


Gampi (Wikstroemia sikokiana)

Gampi-shi(paper made from the bark of a clove-like bush). Gampi belongs to the daphne family. Since this plant is expensive to cultivate, only the bark of the wild bush is available for making washi. Called hi-shi (figured paper, or rich paper) in ancient times, gampi-shi has superlative beauty and dignity and is called the king of washi. Its short, thin fibers realize a finely-textured, high-density washi with a smooth surface of a natural reddish cream color, thought to be the color of a young bird, with an unusual but pleasant gloss. Gampi fibers contain a natural viscous substance, and earlier peoples added gampi to their hemp paper and cho-shi for a smoother texture. According to Dr. MACHIDA Seishi, the later use of the mucilage of noriutsugi bark and tororoaoi root in washi-making may have derived from this ancient practice.

On the other hand, the mucilage causes the sheets to retain water during processing, making it difficult to form thick gampi-shi. Furthermore, gampi-shi shrinks when it absorbs water. If relatively large characters with many strokes are calligraphed in India ink on a sheet of gampi-shi with a large writing brush, the paper surrounding the characters wrinkles. Therefore, gampi-shi is used mainly for writing kana (Japanese syllabary), sutras, and letters, that is, for writing small and thin characters.

     During the Heian period (794-1185), gampi-shi was classified into three groups depending on its thickness. From thickest to thinnest, these were called atsu-yo (thick design), chu-yo (middle design), and usu-yo (thin design). Relatively thick gampi-shi was called torinoko-gami (young bird paper), and a type manufactured in Echizen (now Fukui Prefecture) was the most valued. Inventory lists issued by the Tokugawa shogunate to the daimyo (feudal lords) were made of extraordinarily thick gampi-shi, which symbolized the regime's power and authority. Gampi-shi is also used for Japanese-style paintings and luxurious fusuma. Thin gampi-shi used to be popular as stencil paper.

     Like mitsumata, gampi is a shrub of the daphne family and reaches a height of about 2 meters. Its growth is so slow that cultivation is difficult. As a result, generally only wild plants are harvested. The fiber, about 5 mm long, is thin and lustrous, so it produces the finest and most lustrous of the three papers. Its elegant translucence and the relative scarcity of the fiber make it the most expensive of the three papers. A sample of the paper made from this plant is pictured below.

Mitsumata (Edgeworthia chrysantha)

     Mitsumata, also belonging to the daphne family, gets its name from its branches, which each grow in three sections. Whereas kozo and gampi have been used since ancient times, mitsumata was first used as a paper material late in the Momoyama period (1582-1600). The first mitsumata paper in Japanese history was a black-sealed document dated March 4, 1598 from Ieyasu Tokugawa, then one of the feudal lords, to the Misu family. Later, mitsumata-gami began to be manufactured in Shuzenji (now the east side of Shizuoka Prefecture) and then in Suruga (now central Shizuoka Prefecture) and Koshu (now Yamanashi Prefecture) regions. During the closing years of the Edo period(1600-1868) this paper-making spread to Tottori, and during the Meiji period (1868-1912), to Ehime, Kochi, and Okayama prefectures.

     Also thin and short, mitsumata fibers are similar to those of gampi but are slightly larger, and when made into washi they create a smooth surface highly suitable for writing small, thin letters and characters in India ink. While gampi is collected from trees in the wild, mitsumata bushes can be cultivated, the main reason for the growth in its demand. Torinoko-gami (young bird paper) using only mitsumata or mitsumata mixed with gampi was also developed. The Paper Making Department of the Printing Bureau of the Ministry of Finance submitted western-style handmade paper manufactured from mitsumata as the bureau's official paper to the International Exposition held in 1878. This paper earned high praise, especially in Europe, and after that, Japanese banknotes were made from mitsumata and boasted the world's highest quality in terms of durability and beauty. Today, however, because of cost, most Japanese banknotes are made from Manila hemp, and only a few are made from mitsumata.

     This shrub of the daphne family reaches a height of about 2 meters. After planting, it can be harvested only once every 3 years. The fiber, about 5 mm long, is thin and soft, so it produces smooth paper. Its printability is excellent. It is also insect-resistant. A sample of the paper made from this plant is pictured below.

Kozo (Broussonetia kazinoki)

     Kozo-shi or cho-shi (paper made from paper mulberry trees) The kozo tree, the raw material for this paper, belongs to the mulberry family and is relatively easy to grow, capable of being cultivated either from seeds or by transplanting roots or branches. Among the many kinds of kozo is one called kaji.

     During the Nara period (710-794), cho-shi was called koku-shi (grained paper), and throughout the history of Japan most washi has been manufactured from kozo. This is probably the result of the plant's ease of cultivation and processing for all washi applications.

     Kozo fibers are thicker and longer than those of other materials and create the typical impression that washi is known for when fashioned into a product. Thick cho-shi represents a masculine toughness, and thin cho-shi feminine softness and pliability. Both are strong and highly durable.

     Major cho-shi papers include hosho (produced mainly in Fukui Prefecture), Sugihara-gami (Hyogo Prefecture), Nishinouchi (Ibaraki Prefecture), Mino-shi (Gifu Prefecture), and Senka-shi (Ehime Prefecture), among others.

     The largest use of cho-shi is for transcription of writings and woodblock printing. The next most common use is in shoji (sliding screens) followed by use in Japanese-style paper umbrellas.

     During the Edo period (1600-1868), cho-shi was widely used for such items as chochin (lanterns), andon (standing lamps), sensu (folding fans), uchiwa (round fans), kamiko (robes), obi (sashes), tabi (socks), kappa (raincoats), plasters, kites, sugoroku (parcheesi), chiyogami (colorful paper for handicrafts), folk toys, fusuma (sliding doors), byobu (folding screens), and carpets as well as articles used in religious ceremonies and observances, festivals, and tea ceremonies.

     This is a shrub of the mulberry family. Its branches reach 3 meters at full growth. It is very easy to cultivate, and it is possible to obtain an annual crop. The inner bast fiber is the longest of the three plants. It is relatively thick and strong, so it produces solid paper used the most extensively. A sample of the paper made from this plant is pictured below.