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Japanese Washi Paper FAQ

Printing

There are several printing methods, such as letterpress, silk, and offset. Letterpress and silk are generally better suited to printing on washi than offset. Handmade paper is softer, and its surface fibers tend to flip easier, making printing difficult. It is much easier to print on a machine-made paper. However, if you must print on handmade paper, we recommend using one with a smoother surface that isn't too thin. You will get better results with paper made using mitsumata or kozo. It is best to avoid materials like ganpi for printing.

It is possible to use them in a printer if the paper's thickness is the same as shoji paper. However, some issues like paper jams, coloring, or ink spreading might occur as the paper is not made for printing. Image warping may occur if the paper contains moisture. Avoid papers made from ganpi and thin mitsumata, as they might shrink when exposed to moisture. It is best to use kozo or mitsumata paper with a thickness of 6–9 momme ("Normal" in the thickness notation).

Thickness

The standard measuring unit for Western paper is in grams per square meter. Japanese paper does not use this method. Instead, it is categorized according to thickness using terms such as usukuchi (thin mouth) and chuuniku (medium meat). The thickness also varies depending on the types of products. Therefore, we often label thin shoji paper as "Thickness: Average," whereby those that can not be seen through are thick. For Japanese paper used in printing, the weight per square meter is displayed.

Size

The largest is Echizen 7 x 9 shaku, or approximately 210 x 270 cm, commonly used in Japanese paintings. The dimensions correspond to the F150 of the picture. Only a few places produce handmade paper sheets larger than a tatami mat. If you need a large sheet like this, you may choose to glue several together. If you need a longer length, we recommend using the machine-made roll washi.

The size of the tools for producing handmade papers determines the size of the sheets. Some of these tools are quite rare and so are not available in most workshops. The paper's size also depends on the size of the water vat used in storing raw materials and water. Most handmade paper sheets are made in a single dimension, and custom sizes are not available.

The term used in specifying the dimension of handmade Japanese papers is in koban or kikuban. Koban is a generic name for B5 to A3 sizes. Kikuban indicates a paper with dimensions of 63 cm x 94 cm. The lack of industry-standard dimensions is due to the unique tools inherited from older generations. Each device was initially made for a specific use. Thus paper sizes vary according to the workshop.

How to choose

Paper that absorbs more water has more smudging. Paper that repels water does not create smudges. Ganpi and mitsumata create little smudging so that even smaller handwritten letters can be seen clearly. Depending on the materials and process of making kozo paper, some repel ink while others create smudges. Paper that has been processed by dosa drawing can prevent smudging regardless of the raw material.

A high price doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the paper. It is more important to choose a paper that best matches your application. Generally, however, cost savings are achieved by skipping steps in the manufacturing process, leading to uneven quality and a different finish from the original washi. It is best to determine the paper quality required for the application and select the one that best meets your requirements within the constraints of your budget.

We recommend different types of paper for calligraphy, depending on whether the focus will be kanji or kana. Generally, paper for kanji calligraphy allows for more smudging. In contrast, the paper for kana calligraphy is made to prevent smudging. Many handmade Japanese papers could be used for calligraphy even if they were not initially intended for this purpose. We do not recommend using papers made using foreign raw materials as they often repel ink.

The characteristics and properties of paper vary widely depending on the raw materials and production methods used. Thus, to ensure a particular paper meets your needs, we recommend carefully reading the descriptions and specifications before purchasing.

First, consider the properties of paper that are necessary for your application, which includes the strength, surface smoothness/gloss, thickness, dimensions, and price. Kozo is the strongest compared to other papers. Although ganpi is not as strong as kozo, it has a smooth surface with a pearly luster. Because ganpi paper can be costly, a cheaper substitute would be mitsumata paper, which has a similar smoothness. Mixing the three primary materials with the likes of hemp, bamboo, and wood pulp results in washi of unique properties.

The raw materials make a big difference. Kozo paper is rough and tough, while ganpi is smooth and delicate. Some kozo paper uses a thinner or thicker fiber, which will appear differently on the paper. Even with the same ingredients used, the properties of washi can vary depending on the processing method and any added chemicals. These various factors combine to result in unique washi.

The most significant difference between handmade and machine-made papers is their texture. Even with the same types of ingredients, handmade paper is usually softer and lighter. The machine-made paper has more firmness and a smooth surface. The handmade washi has the unique feature of a streak-like trace left by the tools. Depending on the application, some machine-made paper may contain wood pulp, manila hemp, and chemical fibers.

It will depend on the parts that need to be repaired, and the purpose of the restoration. Try to avoid any use of chemicals in the process. A bleaching agent might not be ideal for long-term paper restoration, as it might create stains over time and damage the paper's fiber due to the strong effects. In the raw material processing stage, papers like hon mino, yukyu, and hosokawa are more favorable as they use soda and wood ash rather than caustic soda.

The main ingredients are kozo, mitsumata, and ganpi. Kozo has a longer fiber, which is soft and supple for creating a durable paper. The paper made from ganpi has a smooth and glossy surface, which creates paper with a firm and hard texture. Mitsumata paper has a strong and glossy surface that lies between the quality of kozo and ganpi. As raw materials are often mixed to make paper, each raw material's characteristics come out according to the composition.

Thin ganpi paper is translucent. The transparency might decrease if materials such as wood pulp, manila hemp, or calcium carbonate are present. Although thin ganpi can be used to create transparent paper, it will not be strong enough to be used as light-transmissive material as it might shrink with water. Kozo paper might be a better option in terms of strengths.

Papers such as the hon mino and thin ganpi are used as materials for Japanese painting. In recent years, there has been an increase in demand from artists for large sheets to be used for exhibition pieces. A production site in Fukui prefecture made a special linen paper (mashi) by mixing it with thick hemp to accommodate this kind of request. Although it is fascinating to see a large area taken by one sheet, some types of paper are too thick to be made into scrolls, and are meant to be framed. If you want to mount your work into a hanging scroll, another way of doing this is by joining several pieces of thin paper together to make a bigger one. Artists who would like to create a Japanese-style scroll should be careful about the paper’s thickness.

A thin kozo paper is durable for its thickness. Thin ganpi has a transparent and glossy appearance but is inferior to kozo paper in terms of strength. Types of thin kozo paper include hon mino, sekishu-hanshi, and yukyu-shi. The definition of durability differs according to applications, such as resistance to friction, water repellence, or lifespan. Please contact us with specific details of your requirements so that we can confirm for you.

Paper that is suitable for art prints is not particularly limited. Still, treated and sized paper is preferable for immediate usage as it is made to prevent smearing. Another characteristic of Japanese paper for art prints is its thick finish. Some papers are made using kozo alone, but most of them are made by mixing pulp. Echizen hosho, which is also used for ukiyo-e, is a high-grade product that is made out of pure kozo and is particularly expensive among printing papers.

Although it might not apply to all types of papers, the front surface is often smooth to touch, while the back usually has a rough surface. Both sides can be used depending on the application. We recommend using the front for drawing or printing, as there tends to be noticeable fuzz and dust at the back. It is hard to distinguish the front and back of ganpi paper when it is very thin.

Some of the Japanese papers are used for specific purposes, such as urushi koshi and misugami, but most of them are versatile. Therefore, we do not specify any particular use cases or applications in our shop. It is vital to determine the kind of paper that best suits your application. You may also refer to the set of typical applications we categorize based on the previous usage.

Although it depends on the hardness and size of the actual paper and the desired finish, we recommend using thin kozo paper. It would be difficult to wind the scroll or shaft properly if it is too thick. The ideal thickness for lining is usually between 10–20gsm. However, if the work is extensive, multiple lining might be needed.

Typical notations that show the paper's manufacturing process are raw materials, ripening agents, and drying methods. Boil-ripening agents are added during the boiling process to soften the peeled outer bark. Common agents are caustic soda, soda ash, lime, and wood ash. The two drying methods of washi are pasting it on the traditional board and drying it under the sun, or pasting it on a warm iron plate. We try our best to show the specification of each paper type. However, if anything is unclear or you have special requirements, please contact us for clarification.

Although washi has existed for a long time, it has also successfully found new uses in modern times, such as printing and lighting. However, if you plan to use washi for an original and unique purpose, experimenting via trial and error is required. Feel free to contact us if you are concerned about the side effects of using certain chemicals in the manufacturing process of washi.

The properties and texture of washi will change as it ages over time. Also, the paper quality is not always constant due to the manufacturing period's climate and conditions. It might not be possible for us to deliver the same exact paper that you purchased in the past. Even in the same workshop, the paper quality will differ to a degree when there is a change in craftsperson.

We provide thin, colored and dyed tengujo paper and kozo paper with different patterns depending on techniques like blur dyeing and board tightening dyeing (similar to tie-dye processing). As each product has a unique pattern, we only get to introduce a portion of them in our store. You may contact us or visit us for more designs.

It depends on the style of the cutouts you want to create. However, we also have black paper. Since most of the base papers are plain dyed paper, you may consider using papers dyed with a blur or pattern. Depending on the application, the paper's characteristics, such as strength and ease of cutting, may vary.

Special Processing

As required to specify the details of material use, specification, kireji, and lining in making a frame, we do not accept framing requests or orders by mail at this time. You may consult us directly when you visit our branch at Nihonbashi. When you consult us, it will be helpful if you can give us information such as a description of the space/place you wish to decorate, your desired dimensions, and the ideal color.

Kyoseishi is a paper made by rubbing and applying konjac paste on it. With that, it will be strong and resistant to friction and water. An example of usage is a paper robe (a paper kimono worn by monks). It is suitable for wrapping as it can withstand bending, not easily torn, and the wrinkles are not noticeable. You can also make your own using konjac glue powder.

A picture framer commonly uses paper knives, but we recommend a large-sized cutter when cutting it at home. Although you may also cut using scissors, it might not be an easy task because the raw fiber is long. Try using a new blade with an underlay, and push down to cut. It is challenging to cut calligraphy paper because it is so soft and easily torn.

Dyeing methods include plant-based and chemical dyeing. Plant-based dyeing usually uses indigo, cherry blossom, wormwood, and bayberry. Although not entirely the same, red iron oxide dyeing also falls under the category of plant-based dyeing. Another method is the astringent persimmon dye, which obtains its color by fermenting green persimmon. With chemical dyeing, you may dye the raw materials first, then make the paper or vice versa. However, some products may discolor when in contact with water.

There is no dosa on the handmade echizen torinoko-gami paper. Torinoko-gami has different raw materials from Tokugou to No. 4, with very little smudging. You may ask for a dosa according to your application, such as Japanese painting and prints.

We currently do not accept mounting requests by mail order. However, you may consult us for advice when you visit our store in Nihonbashi. It is best to decide on your budget and desired style before asking us. There might be a significant difference in cost and time required for mounting on machine-made vs. handmade shafts.

Besides shūgi-bukuro (a special envelope in which money is given as a gift of celebration in Japan), hōsho is used in various circumstances, such as incense wraps and ceremonial decorations. As formal folding techniques and styles require advanced understanding and are difficult to learn, we are unable to support you on this matter.

A deckle-edged paper is a special washi used for business cards. While handwritten business cards are the best, you may also choose to print your business card on washi using a printer. However, there are only a few printing shops where you can print cards with deckle-edged paper, so it's better to check before proceeding. You may also stamp your business address using a custom press.

When you receive the shipment, remove the packaging and store your washi in a dry, well-ventilated area. If the vinyl or wrapper of the washi gets damp, it will create discoloration, mold, or stains. Ideally, it is best to wrap it in dustproof thin paper and lay it on a flat surface. However, you may also roll it up and put it on a higher place or in a paulownia box. If you want to use it immediately, you can hang it on the clothesline.

Glossary

Most of the washi is made by drawing the raw material using a tool called su made by weaving a thin bamboo stick with threads. Paper is called kayasuki when the su is made with a susuki knitting axis instead of a bamboo stick. This process gives it the appearance of having bold, distinctive lines. An example of kayasuki paper is Tosa's Seichosen.

Not commonly used in modern times, monme is a unit of measurement for washi. One monme is about 3.75g, which is used to indicate the thickness of Japanese washi. For instance, shoji paper is around 5 monme, thinner washi is usually 2 monme, while the thickest paper can go up to 10 monme. However, this notation is a problem because it washi usually measures according to the weight per sheet instead of weight per square meter. Therefore, even if the paper is said to be 3 monme, the actual thickness varies from different production sites.

Shaku is still a commonly used term in the washi industry. The scale used for washi is 1 shaku = 10.3 cm. A sizing method called kikuban is a common phrase in the washi industry for cutting off edges and obtaining the actual size of 2 shaku x 3 shaku (60.6 x 90.9 cm). The product dimensions are determined per shaku unit. For instance, a larger Japanese paper for paintings is 6 x 8 shaku after 5 x 7 shaku.

Dosa-biki, or sized paper, is the technique of applying dosa liquid, which also called a sizing agent on the surface of the washi to prevent it from smudging. Some of the paper used for calligraphy, Japanese-style painting, and printmaking is processed with dosa-biki to reduce smudging, and this process is usually done in advance. Since the paint does not easily penetrate the paper, a clear line can be drawn without smudging. It is advised not to store the glued dosa paper in a damp place.

Torinoko-gami was initially another name for gampi paper. The name is said to be derived from the colors of little chicks (there is also an egg theory). Nowadays, paper that is finished in a light yellow color and looks like gampi paper is called torinoko. It also referred to as "chick color" when expressing colors. The paper called shintorinoko often refers to a machine-made paper made from pulp.