The number of craftsmen manufacturing Japanese traditional handmade washipaper is decreasing every year. The loss of these traditional manufacturing techniques represents a loss of Japanese heritage. We think we need to appeal to consumers in order to maintain interest in this intangible cultural treasure.
Our research of handmade Japanese washi paper found that there were 62,685 manufacturers in 1894 but this had decreased to only 317 manufacturers by 2004. (source:- ‘50 years history of a Japanese washi paper – industrial cooperative society in Fukui prefecture’ and ‘Research of handmade Japanese washi paper’). One of the reasons for this drop in numbers is the westernization of Japanese lifestyle after the Meiji era. Decreasing demand for items previously considered necessities of life such as Japanese sliding doors and paper screens, had a profound effect on the demand for washi paper.
Many of the traditional techniques and tools used in washi production are passed down from generation to generation. The process of manufacturing washi is done under natural conditions resembling traditional agriculture. Washi paper manufacture embodies the craftsman’s high technique and the history and culture of the craft. We feel it is worthwhile to attempt to recapture this part of Japanese culture and to communicate it to the current generation.
As part of our promotion activities we produce and distribute ‘Chigirie’ handmade picture books employing washi paper in Japan and overseas, teach the history and details of historical washi paper production centres and to hold classes for crafts using washi paper. We think these opportunities are not only a start for people to deepen interest in Japanese culture and history but will also promote international exchange sharing knowledge and experiences. In introducing washi crafts to other countries, we are are extending Japanese culture overseas.