Japanese handmade paper, washi, is made from the inner bark of the kozo, gampi, and mitsumata bushes. It is another outgrowth of Buddhism, and one of the first references to it is in the Nihon Shoki, completed in 720 and one of Japan's two earliest histories. It mentions that Buddhist sutras were presented by a priest, Doncho, who was also a paper maker.

The purity of the water used in the process and the skill of the maker result in distinctive characteristics of the end product. Today, there are specifications for the paper used for print making, calligraphy, and painting. Some of the most beautiful examples can be seen in wrapping paper and stationery, but these are not the only uses to which washi is put, as the art work below demonstrates.


Masaaki Endo created this artwork using a technique called kiri-e, or "cut art." During the Heian period (794-1185) members of the royalty began to wear clothing made from the new art of paper making. To distinguish one family from another unique designs cut from the paper were used as decoration. This was the beginning of kiri-e. The technique most closely recembles the making of stained glass. Other examples can be seen at Endo's studio.


The information above came primarily from A Handbook on the Art of Washi, from the All Japan Handmade Washi Association, and from Eri Takase Jackowski, a shodoh (calligraphy) teacher. Her website has several photo essays and articles on the subject.

Noshi (decoratively folded paper, left) adds elegance to the wrapping ofa formal gift onhappy occasions. Chopsticks are sometimes placed inside paper orikatasheaths (right) forNew Year meals and other festivities. The washi paper is folded, thentied with mizuhikipaper strings, which are colored gold and silver, or red and white.

(Photo by Kobayashi Tsunehiro; artwork and explanation by Araki Makio)

Special thanks to the Japan Information Network for permission to use this photograph from the Nipponia section of their information-packed web site.



Fascinating Folds' on-line catalogue of material for origami also includes some nice examples of washi