Postcards From The Land Of The Rising Sun: Learn The Art of Washi Paper Making

Postcards From The Land Of The Rising Sun: Learn The Art of Washi Paper Making

08/12/2018

Postcards From The Land Of The Rising Sun series continues with the Art of Washi Paper Making by Ruchika Sahai

Have you ever loved something so deeply, so richly, so completely, surrendering your whole body to it?  I have. Struck by love at first sight only twice, each time the flame burned blindingly brightly in the beginning, and then slowly faded till it burned out.  But the rare great loves intensify and burn brighter with knowledge and time.  For me, washi was love at first sight and our relationship has endured, becoming one of the greatest love stories of my life!

Thirteen years ago, belly full of baby, was the first time I encountered washi paper.  So intense was the infatuation that I took every course from tea box making (with washi) to calligraphy (on washi) to lantern making (shaping washi).  But like any infatuation I wasn’t too interested in going deep, I was just satisfied to be around it, to touch it, to feel it and most importantly to possess it.  And possess it I did. I would go to Ito-ya, the venerable craft store 12 stories high in Ginza, and hit the washi floor like an addict looking for my latest fix.

When I left Tokyo 10 years ago I left with bales of washi, initially using it liberally and then worried I may never live in Tokyo again, I tucked them in under my bed for a long hibernation. It had gone straight from an infatuation to an unrequited love, the kind you only take out on rainy days.

It’s been 10 years and my bales of washi have moved from Vienna, to Sydney, to Seoul, back to Sydney and are now on a ship on the Pacific making their way back home.  My unrequited love has been languishing in basements and garages, dormant for years.  My first day back in Tokyo I went running to Itoya, but stayed a little distant from the washi, not wanting to caress it for fear of falling in too deeply again.

It’s been 10 years and my bales of washi have moved from Vienna, to Sydney, to Seoul, back to Sydney and are now on a ship on the Pacific making their way back home.  My unrequited love has been languishing in basements and garages, dormant for years.  My first day back in Tokyo I went running to Itoya, but stayed a little distant from the washi, not wanting to caress it for fear of falling in too deeply again.

If I was going to start my affair again with an ancient art that was first invented 1300 years ago, I had to go to a shrine and pay homage and asked to be let back in.  As I neared my heart started pounding in anticipation, and my pace quickened.  And then I saw it, standing there, glistening in the afternoon sun, waiting for me since 1653, the Ozu Washi.

Walking in I saw people making washi in a class and I had to restrain myself from rushing in.  Even though my heart was racing I had to pace myself, let the washi uncover herself to me.  I ventured forth and rushed to the second floor and then the third, trying to taking it all in.  Even though I knew I would come back to this well many a time, like any infatuation, you want to swallow it whole in the moment and nothing is ever enough to satisfy you.

As I rose up, I found myself at the apex in The Soul of Washi museum.  An old man hunched over raised his eyes slowly and followed my gaze.  He came to me, recognizing a kindred wa (Japanese) shi (paper) spirit. He said he would put on a movie in English to explain how washi was made. I politely declined.  He put it on anyway and disappeared.  Annoyed.

Then the story pulled me in and I was transfixed by the process and the history of washi paper making.  I never did know any of it and was happy enough to swim in the shallow end.  And then I learned that washi paper is strong enough to last a 1,000 years and flexible enough to use in any way.  That is was protected as a cultural heritage icon by UNESCO.  That is was created by farmers in the villages by hand and they used the sun and the rain to make patterns on it.  And that it took 10 days to make just one sheet!  The perfect union of human and elemental effort.

If I had to think back to a moment when I fell in love, it would have to be when the old man had me run my fingers over the paper that had little holes for patterns.  He told me that this type of pattern was made by putting the almost finished washi in the rain!   I had this washi in my possession for the last decade, and I had could never bear to part with it.  From time to time, on those rainy days, I would take it out,  run my hands over it and admire it’s irregularity and it’s simplicity.  And today I found out that the one I loved so much, the one I took out on rainy days, is the one I had always possessed.

Ozu Washi

For 360 years this store has continued in this location! You can come here to shop for washi, or learn about washi in their museum, see beautiful collections using washi in their Gallery or take one of their many classes on washi making!
103-0023 Tokyo, Chūō, Nihonbashihoncho, 3 Chome−6−2 
Monday – Saturday 10:00-18:00, Sunday closed

ITOYA

There is no store in the world that has a more beautifully curated collection of goodies for the paper, craft and travel accessory junkie.  Floors of beauty laid out for the taking!  And one of the meccas for pens of all types and if you are like me and love a LAMY, you will find the best collection here outside Germany.
2 Chome-7-15 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061
Monday – Saturday 10:00-20:00, Sunday 10:00-19:00

About Ruchika Sahai

Ruchika Sahai

Ruchika Sahai

After having lived in nine countries, fourteen cities and travelled through forty eight more, it amazed me to walk into Tokyo and immediately find a home.  No matter how much I wander, wonder and learn, the well here seems bottomless, adding to my voracious appetite for exploration.

It is in Japan that I have found and discovered my ikigai – the intersection of  what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.

And it is Japan’s Ikigai I want to share with you!  There is so much quiet passion, respect and reverence for what most of us consider mundane, which elevates a simple task to an art form. They are domains where the Japanese dominate – from BAPE conquering the fashion world, to the fluffy Japanase cheesecake conquering our taste buds!  We can all learn from the Buddhist philosophy around community and the Shinto principles of nurturing the environment, both contributing to peace and longevity.

With the World Rugby Cup and the Olympics coming up in Japan, I am confident it will rise up to take it’s place in our collective Ikigai sweet spot!   

Let me take you there!

Postcards From The Land Of The Rising Sun: Nezu Museum Garden In Tokyo