Snow, water, and skill
Yatsuo is one of three papermaking sites in the Etchu region, along with Birudan and Gokayama. The paper of each has its own flavor. Living in mountains with heavy snowfall, the paper of Etchu reveals the excellence of the paper mulberry of the region and the profound skill of the craftspeople.
A famous papermaking venue
Located in the foothills of Tateyama Range, in times past, Yatsuo was the town that made the paper used by the itinerant medicine vendors of Toyama, who traveled the entire length of Japan selling little paper packets of medicines and bringing news to remote villages. An old saying states, "1,000 houses in Yatsuo; every one makes paper." Today, only two papermaking workshops remain. One such is Keijusha, run by Mr Yasuki Yoshida.
A selection of fine Yatsuo papers
Durable material, durable paper
Etchu paper various with where it is made. The paper of Yatsuo is also called Yatsuo mingei paper and includes colored papers, art papers, stencil-printed papers, and various paper objects. Gokayama and Birudan mainly make shoji paper and paper used for calligraphy and ink painting as well as fine book papers. Mr Yoshida stated, "The paper of Etchu was used for everyday things, and that is why it is so durable."
A design of carp streamers being transferred to paper
Traditional botanical wisdom
Besides paper mulberry, other bast fibers used to make paper are gampi and mitsumata, and vegetable mucilage made from the tororo aoi plant is added to the scooping vat to suspend the pulp fibers. This mucilage also has the mysterious property of allowing the just-made, wet sheets of paper to be stacked, pressed to remove moisture, and then separated without difficulty. Stirring the mucilage into the vat, Mr Yoshida observed, "People used to be wise. They had wonderful knowledge of plants. Today, we just know the techniques handed down to us."
Making mucilage from the tororo aoi plant
Learning from a 'Living National Treasure'
After Mr Yoshida graduated from college, he spent some time outside the world of paper. He studied textile dyeing for three years with 'Living National Treasure' Keisuke Serizawa. Serizawa was famous for his stencil designs; he undertook every step of the stencil-making and stenciling process himself, without relying on other craftspeople. As a result of Mr Yoshida's experience as a pupil of Serizawa, the town produced stencil-dyed papers in this artist's inimitable style, and the paper became associated with his name.
Stenciled designs on paper
Decorated paper at Yatsuo are made with stencils and paste resist. For a single design, stencils are cut for each color. A stencil is placed over the paper, paste resist is applied to the cut-out areas, and the paper is dyed. The resist is then removed in water and the paper dried. This process is repeated for as many stencils as there are colors in the design. This is an old textile dyeing technique. Mr Yoshida again repeated his admiration of the people of the past.
Paper figures illustrate the papermaking process
Communicating paper's excellence
The Keijusha company has opened a 'Paper Resource' (Washi Bunko) to the public, where the making of paper is demonstrated. Mr Yoshida's father, Keisuke, has compiled a large collection of paper-related materials from throughout Japan and from around the world; they are displayed here. Art works of Keisuke Serizawa are included in the articles on display. Viewing the displays, Mr Yoshida observed, "Handmade paper today is no longer an everyday material. But it would be a tragedy to discard the heritage of 1,200 years. I strongly desire to communicate the beauty and quality of the paper that was part of life in Japan for so long."
In the workshop, they were busy making carp streamers for Children's Day on May 5. The project was a perfect way to display the durability of Yatsuo paper and the clarity of the colors used in the Yatsuo decorated papers. The vitality of the carp was expressed fully in these small works, which celebrate a child's growth on this day.
Born 1952. Studied with 'Living National Treasure' Keisuke Serizawa for three years after graduation from college, then embarked on a career in the world of paper. Owns the Keijusha company in the town of Yatsuo.