Washi no Sato: World Heritage Paper Making in Saitama
Located amongst the hills of the Chichibu district in north-west Saitama is the narrow valley of Higashi (east) Chichibu. Separated from Chichibu City by a ridge of hills, the village of Higashi Chichibu is more easily reached from Ogawa Machi. Both towns stretch along the banks of the Ogawa, the clear water of which has been used in paper making in this region for hundreds of years.
In December 2014 the production of Hosokawa-shi in Higashi Chichibu and Ogawa Machi was listed by UNESCO as Human Intangible Cultural Heritage; a similar designation was accorded by the Japanese government in 1978.
Washi no Sato is a paper making workshop and cultural heritage centre in Higashi Chichibu where you can see paper being made, participate in paper making yourself, enjoy local culture and heritage through architecture, arts and crafts as well as cuisine.
Entry is free and, so long as you don't get in the way, visitors are welcome to enter the workshop and observe washi being made. Lots of water is involved in the process and the floors are wet. Make sure your footwear is appropriate!
The larger screens are suspended from bamboo poles resting across the ceiling rafters. The bamboo is flexible and springy enough to assist the paper maker in getting the washi pulp to cover the larger screens evenly. Smaller hand-held screens are used for making postcards. The sheets of freshly moulded paper are stacked wet one on top of the other. They will be transferred to driers before finally being hung to dry. Various things such as ash from different kinds of wood, old newspaper, flower petals, grass or dye are added to the basic pulp to create different colours and textures. A wide variety of papers for artists and for decorative use are available in the main shop.
Outside the workshop, you can see the Hoso plants soaking prior to being turned into pulp:
Behind the main workshop extensive gardens and grounds provide access to several buildings that house exhibitions and workshops. These buildings provide an example of the tradition housing styles of the area when the economy was based on agriculture and paper making was carried out between busy seasonal work. Heavy thatched roofs are typical of this style. The grounds are covered in loose gravel. Access to the buildings for those with impaired mobility is possible along the side paths. The main workshop building has two steps leading to the entrance, though there is a ramp into the main shop. A rest-room for disabled visitors is provided and the car-park surface is metalled.
There is a sculpture trail that winds up the rather steep hillside to a lookout that takes in the valley. This trail also forms part of the Higashi Chichibu hiking course.
Entrance to Washi no Sato is free. There is a soba and udon restaurant sukifune, in the grounds and a larger soba restaurant across the road. The main shop sells a wide range of paper and paper goods as well as souvenirs and refreshments. Information in languages other than Japanese is not widely available, however in the shop, you can pick up a free brochure in Japanese and English by the Hosokawa-shi Craftsmen's Association that explains the process of washi making.
East Chichibu village Washi no Sato
East Chichibu village
Tel:0493 (82) 1468
Hours: 9:00am – 4:00pm. Exhibitions close at 3:00pm
Closed: Mondays and Tuesdays when a public holiday falls on a Monday
Train: From Ikebukuro (Tokyo) Tobu Tojo line to Ogawamachi: 70 minutes. From outside the station take the rosen bus (路線バス) Shiraishi shoko Kaiya iki (白石車庫・皆谷行き) and get off at washi no sato (和紙の里): 15 minutes.
Car: Kanestu expressway to Ranzan IC. Turn off for Ogawamachi. Take Route 254 do not take 254 bypass. In the centre of Ogawamachi at the T-junction, continue along the same road which then becomes Prefectural Route 11, do not turn right along Route 254 to Ogawa station. Washi no Sato is on Route 11 roughly 8km further on.