On Monday about 17 members gathered in the Primrose Paper Arts studio for our monthly Social Day. There were groups discussing arts and crafts in Japan, talking about printmaking, experimenting and making paper in all different forms and colours, and browsing through the library. It was a wonderful atmosphere, and we were delighted to welcome some new members who visited.
At lunchtime we were joined by Keiko Ando who is an international school coordinator based in Ayabe which is a small town in the mountains about 20 minutes from the Sea of Japan. Keiko is promoting Kurotani Washi which is a cooperative based in Ayabe which is also known as the home of a Japanese martial art and for its silk underwear industry. It has a population of about 33,000.
Kurotani Washi has a history dating back 800 years and is said to have its origins as a way for the defeated soldiers of the Heike Clan hiding from their pursuers in the mountains to make a living.
Since then, the village of Kurotani has been recognized as the home of traditional hand-made paper, an art that touched the majority of the villagers. The creators of Kurotani washi have been ageing and the art has been decreasing so a plan was put in place to ensure it continued. Three families were found who were willing to learn the process of making washi and maintain the industry. It is a very manual process as many of the steps are done by hand. The mulberry trees which provide the wood for the pulp are no longer so prolific around Ayama so they need to bring their supplies in from Kochi and Okayama.
Keiko showed us each of the steps in the process and also brought many samples of the paper and products that Kurotani produce.
The washi paper is used to wrap kimonos (because it is so strong), shoji screens, bags and cushions, and for calligraphy and art work. There were also small books that the Japanese use to collect stamps at the temples that they visit.
It was a very interesting talk with Keiko and we were pleased that we could then show her around the studio and explain the work that we do – even demonstrating how we make our paper.
One of our members put it so well “Wasn’t Keiko’s talk, presence, demo of her samples, etc first rate! Loved it.”
Webmaster note: you can see more information about Kurotani papermaking on our blog here. There is also an excellent video well worth watching.