Lifestyle | Kateigaho International Japan Edition

Wonders of washi: Exacting standards at Mino Takegami Kobo

High standards: Clean, cold well water flows through the workshop. Here, Hagi Suzuki and Mariko Furuta perform the task of removing dirt from bark strips. Not even the slightest impurity can remain if Honmino-shi is to meet expectations. | MASASHI KUMA
High standards: Clean, cold well water flows through the workshop. Here, Hagi Suzuki and Mariko Furuta perform the task of removing dirt from bark strips. Not even the slightest impurity can remain if Honmino-shi is to meet expectations. | MASASHI KUMA

The person primarily responsible for running this kōbō workshop in Mino, Gifu Prefecture, is Toyomi Suzuki, who, after her marriage, learned the art of papermaking from her father-in-law, Takeichi. She starts work early every morning, making around 100 sheets per day. “I’m constantly thinking that the next sheet I make will be even better than the last,” she says.

Rinse and repeat: Practiced hands immerse each strip of white bark in water, removing dirt and damaged sections. | MASASHI KUMA
Rinse and repeat: Practiced hands immerse each strip of white bark in water, removing dirt and damaged sections. | MASASHI KUMA

Toyomi is supported in this painstaking work by her husband, Takehisa, who apprenticed with her upon retirement from his earlier career; his mother, Hagi, who has been involved in papermaking for many years; and Hagi’s daughter, Mariko Furuta.

Finding a rhythm: The most difficult thing is swinging the mold to get the pulp slurry to a uniform thickness. | MASASHI KUMA
Finding a rhythm: The most difficult thing is swinging the mold to get the pulp slurry to a uniform thickness. | MASASHI KUMA

The way in which the suketa bamboo-scrim mold is swung in all directions is a particular feature of the process for producing Honmino-shi. The kōzo mulberry tree fibers thus become strongly intertwined, creating a magnificent irregular texture visible when a sheet is held up to the light.

Cut and dry: Another feature in making Honmino-shi is drying the sheets on boards in the sun. | MASASHI KUMA
Cut and dry: Another feature in making Honmino-shi is drying the sheets on boards in the sun. | MASASHI KUMA

As Takehisa explains, “If you liken it to snow, it is as if fluffy fresh snow had fallen onto ground covered with hard-packed snow. The surface is not a uniform white. It has a lovely unevenness to it.” Pliant Honmino-shi gets its beauty from this fine, delicate and complex texture.

Riverside for a reason: The Itadori River is a tributary of the Nagara River. A large quantity of clean water is essential for washi production. | MASASHI KUMA
Riverside for a reason: The Itadori River is a tributary of the Nagara River. A large quantity of clean water is essential for washi production. | MASASHI KUMA

Washi from Mino Takegami Kobo can be purchased at the Mino-Washi Museum. Warabi 1851-3, Mino, Gifu 501-3788; 0575-34-8111; city.mino.gifu.jp/minogami; minogami@city.mino.lg.jp. This is the second in a four-part series about handmade Japanese washi paper.