Stepping off the bus at the Gakko-iriguchi stop in Higashi-Chichibu Village in Saitama Prefecture, the first things to strike the eye are high-flying clusters of balloons, suspended like colorful dirigibles.

Here, the workshops and exhibition spaces of Washi-no-Sato, a well-known papermaking center tucked into the skirts of the Chichibu Hills, were subsumed under a weekend holiday crowd with a bigger appetite for food than culture. The UNESCO World Heritage designation of washi papermaking as an Intangible Cultural Treasure, however, may have explained the car park, jam-packed with vehicles, and the crowds, who were now pressing in on the food stalls.

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