While mention is made of Sekishu in the Engishiki, a Heian period (794-1185) document on court protocol, a more direct reference to paper is made in the Kamisuki Chohoki, a ""A Manual of Papermaking"" published in 1798. It says that when a Kakinomotono Hitomaro went to take up the post of protector in the province of Iwami (Shimane prefecture), he taught the people there how to make paper.
Sekishu Washi has been made unceasingly for about 1,300 years. In the early days it was made by farmers in their spare time but gradually became a specialized job of work and today, paper is still being made using the same skills and techniques as of old.
Handmade papers differ slightly depending on the plant fiber source. The long fibers of kozo paper make it really strong and supple. Also beautifully pliant is mitsumata paper which is taught and has a slight luster. Even more pliant is ganpi paper which is glossy and is not preferred by hungry insects. Produced in large quantities, kozo paper was used in the past for ledgers by merchants, who were quick to throw them down their wells if a fire broke out, knowing the paper was strong enough to withstand a dousing. These days paper is made for shoji screens, calligraphy paper, letter paper, envelopes and postcards, and business cards and many other things that all retain a distinctive character.
Mulberry paper is the toughest thanks to its long fibers. Mitsumata (edgeworthia chrysantha) paper is delicate and resilient and has a soft luster. Ganpi paper is the most delicate, has a glossy appearance and is resistant to insect damage. Widely-produced mulberry paper was once used by merchants for their account books and is so tough that in case of fires it could be safely thrown into the water without being damaged.
How to make
The bast fiber collected from plants like mulberry, mitsumata (edgeworthia chrysantha), ganpi, etc., is mixed with soda ash and boiled. The water the fibers have been dissolved in is then made extra viscous by mixing in a mucilaginous material made from the roots of the tororo aoi (hibiscus). The paper is then made by a method called “nagashi-suki” whereby bamboo-netted tools called “takesu” and “kayasu” are used to stir the liquid the raw plants have been dissolved in. The process is completed by drying the paper in the sun or by means of iron plates.