Paper making in Tokyo

Traditional Paper-making in Nihonbashi – Paper That Has More Than Meets The Eye

Japan, especially Tokyo, is full of traditional knowhow that may interest visitors from abroad. One may visit Nihonbashi, a district found in Chuo Ward not far from Tokyo Station, which stretches towards Akihabara as well as alongside the Sumida River, to find many Japanese traditional items like the 'kimono' (Japanese garb) or the 'uchiwa'/'sensu' (fan that uses paper pasted on wooden skeleton, the latter type being foldable and usually made with durable Japanese paper). Speaking of paper, Nihonbashi is also seat to the Bank of Japan, which provides the paper notes that are in circulation on the currency market today; the paper used for these bank notes are made from a special type of plant.

Gaibu
Ozu Washi

As we all know, paper-making has since Egyptian times been a mainstay industry developed by society. But the Japanese variety – known as “Washi” – is known for being tough…making them conducive even for adoption into electronic components such as certain resistors. The traditional Tosa “Washi” from Shikoku Island is renowned amongst Japanese electronics manufacturers for the high-quality performance it allows for parts produced with it. Actually, traditional paper made throughout Japan has a propensity to use mulberry, the staple diet of silkworms. In fact, in Tokyo many of those firms handling traditional paper are located near the old textile wholesaler "town" (Yokoyama Tonyagai, in Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho area). Interestingly, some “non-woven” cloth is made not unlike the paper-making process.

The largest and oldest of these firms is Ozu Washi, which originated in the ancient Ise area but in 1653 situated in Edo (present-day Tokyo) to capitalize on the business opportunities available in the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate, filled with bureaucrats, merchants, and commoners in need of paper.

Inside Ozu Washi

Here today visitors–except on Sundays and New Year’s holidays {closed from 16:00 on Dec. 26 through Jan. 3, 2020}–can experience the traditional paper-making process in an “Experience Studio” (reservations can be made for a class, which is about an hour long each according to the type of paper, via website). The workshops, priced reasonably from 500 yen, entail preparation and pouring of pulp solutions into pans then smoothing out the surface of the paper in order to realize a usable piece of paper, among other activities.

There is also a museum and a gallery to be found at Ozu Washi, in addition to "culture classes" for calligraphy or the like.

Another firm called Kawashima Kamiten founded in 1673, has a small outlet/showroom right outside the Kodenmacho subway station, located across from its main headquarters. The paper provider is a favorite for fan manufacturers while attracting those looking for special types of traditional paper from Shikoku, not to mention those papers incorporating gold foils and other stylish paper for use with traditional Japanese housing and such. It is a favorite drop-in spot despite being open beyond weekdays to only 15:00 on second and fourth Saturdays of the month. If intrigued by Japanese fans, visitors can also go to Ibasen which is within walking distance as is Ozu Washi, the fan shop having been in business since 1590. 

A relatively younger outfit, established in 1806, is Haibara, which bills itself as a "dealer in paper and stationer" and is conspicuous in its newly-renovated building sited on Takashimaya Square.

Takashimaya Square

On the way from Kawashima/Ozu/Ibasen section of Nihonbashi to Takashimaya one can also find Yubendo right before crossing the Nihonbashi Bridge, which handles paper as well as brushes and other items requisite to Japanese calligraphy. Yubendo and Haibara both have other traditional Japanese knickknacks that can make great souvenirs.

Yubendo
Yubendo

Whatever paper may fancy a visitor, Nihonbashi has all types available. 

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