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Sugiharagami (杉原紙), a kind of washi

Washi (和紙) is traditional Japanese paper processed by hand using fibers from the inner bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia chrysantha), or the paper mulberry (kōzo) bush.[1]

Washi is generally tougher than ordinary paper made from wood pulp, and is used in many traditional arts. Origami, shodō, and ukiyo-e were all produced using washi. Washi was also used to make various everyday goods like clothes, household goods, and toys, as well as vestments and ritual objects for Shinto priests and statues of Buddha. It was even used to make wreaths that were given to winners in the 1998 Winter Paralympics. Washi is also used to repair historically valuable cultural properties, paintings, and books at museums and libraries around the world, such as the Louvre and the Vatican Museums, because of its thinness, pliability, durability over 1000 years because of its low impurities, and high workability to remove it cleanly with moisture.[2][3][4]

As a Japanese craft, it is registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.[5]


Washi-making at Ise, Mie

By the 7th century, paper had been introduced to Japan from China via the Korean Peninsula, and the Japanese developed washi by improving the method of making paper in the Heian period. The paper making technique developed in Japan around 805 to 809 was called nagashi-suki (流し漉き), a method of adding mucilage to the process of the conventional tame-suki (溜め漉き) technique to form a stronger layer of paper fibers.[6][7][8][9] The improved washi came to be used to decorate religious ceremonies such as gohei, ōnusa (ja:大麻 (神道)), and shide at Shinto shrines,[6] and in the Heian period, washi covered with gold and silver leaf beautifully decorated books such as Kokin Wakashu.[8]

In the Muromachi period, washi came to be used as ceremonial origami for samurai class at weddings and when giving gifts,[6] and from the Sengoku period to the Edo period, recreational origami such as orizuru developed.[10] During the Edo period, many books and ukiyo-e prints for the masses made of washi were published using woodblock printing.[11]


Origami cranes made of washi

Washi is produced in a way similar to that of ordinary paper, but relies heavily on manual methods. It involves a long and intricate process that is often undertaken in the cold weather of winter, as pure, cold running water is essential to the production of washi. Cold inhibits bacteria, preventing the decomposition of the fibres. Cold also makes the fibres contract, producing a crisp feel to the paper. It is traditionally the winter work of farmers, a task that supplemented a farmer's income.

Paper mulberry is the most commonly used fiber in making Japanese paper. The mulberry branches are boiled and stripped of their outer bark, and then dried. The fibers are then boiled with lye to remove the starch, fat and tannin, and then placed in running water to remove the spent lye. The fibers are then bleached (either with chemicals or naturally, by placing it in a protected area of a stream) and any remaining impurities in the fibers are picked out by hand. The product is laid on a rock or board and beaten.

Wet balls of pulp are mixed in a vat with water and a formation aid to help keep the long fibers spread evenly. This is traditionally neri, which is a mucilaginous material made from the roots of the tororo aoi plant, or PEO, polyethylene oxide. One of two traditional methods of paper making (nagashi-zuki or tame-zuki) is employed. In both methods, pulp is scooped onto a screen and shaken to spread the fibers evenly. Nagashi-zuki (which uses neri in the vat) produces a thinner paper, while tame-zuki (which does not use neri) produces a thicker paper.


See also: List of washi

With enough processing, almost any grass or tree can be made into a washi. Gampi, mitsumata, and paper mulberry are three popular sources.[1]


Until the early 20th century, the Japanese used washi in applications where Western style paper or other materials are currently used. This is partly because washi was the only type of paper available at that time in Japan, but also because the unique characteristics of washi made it a better material.[citation needed]

Washi is also used in watch dials.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b Hughes, Sukey (1978). Washi: the world of Japanese paper. Tokyo: Kodansha International. ISBN 0-87011-318-6.
  2. ^ "Paper conservation by using Japanese paper, washi". International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Archived from the original on 9 February 2022.
  3. ^ "The elegant and refined world of washi". Toki. 30 August 2015. Archived from the original on 6 April 2017.
  4. ^ "Washi paper in Mino". ANA. Archived from the original on 5 April 2022.
  5. ^ "Government, paper makers welcome addition of 'washi' to UNESCO list". 27 November 2014. Archived from the original on 13 January 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  6. ^ a b c 折り紙の歴史と現在: 前史 (in Japanese). Kyushu University Library. Archived from the original on 7 May 2021. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  7. ^ おりがみの歴史 (History of origami) (in Japanese). Nippon Origami Association. Archived from the original on 14 November 2022. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  8. ^ a b 第1章 折り紙の姿 (PDF) (in Japanese). Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 November 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  9. ^ 流し漉き (in Japanese). Kotobank./Digitalio, Inc./The Asahi Shimbun. Archived from the original on 25 November 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  10. ^ 折り紙の歴史と現在: 戦国~江戸中期 (in Japanese). Kyushu University Library. Archived from the original on 7 May 2021. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  11. ^ "Edo Picture Books and the Edo Period". National Diet Library. Archived from the original on 19 October 2020. Retrieved 26 November 2022.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Review: Enter the dragon: The Citizen AQ 4020-54Y. Best quartz watch in the world?". Deployant. 10 May 2018. Retrieved 2 September 2022.

Further reading