In 1902 a boy named Eishirou Abe was born in Yakumo, a village in Shimane; he took up the local trade, making Washi paper, and excelled; in 1968 he was designated a Living National Treasure. He died in 1985, but his workshop is still there; you can visit it, look at lots of beautiful paper, and make it yourself. Our Ruby road trip stopped there and we did those things.

The papers are made from the bark of local river reeds; the preparation involves much picturesque pounding and stripping and mashing and boiling (they showed us a movie) which I bet isn’t actually that much fun; the movie suggested that this often happens in the snow.

If you poke around starting any Web search for “Washi” you’ll find lots of pictures of remarkably beautiful paper. This isn’t one of them.

A sheet of Washi paper

It’s real washi all right, but it’s not beautiful because it was made by an amateur, namely me. We all made one; Ko1 had us all sign his.

Here are a couple of pictures, the first by Mr. Masaki our JTB handler, of yours truly in the first step of creating the sheet illustrated above.

The second shot shows Matz watching Mr. Abe, grandson of the Living National Treasure, at work, with some of the raw material in the background. That’s Abbie Phoenix on the right.

Tim Bray makes washi paper at the Abe memorial museum in Yakumo, Shimane
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Abe-san of Abe museum instructing tourists on the making of washi paper at the Abe memorial museum in Yakumo, Shimane

We got to skip the reed-harvesting and stripping and pounding; we started with a vat of the soupy goop that’s the result. You dip in a little framed screen with just the right wrist motion, carry it across the room, press it down on a table and pull back the frame (more wrist motion), and then use a cloth to press out the excess water (and again wrist motion).

After you make your paper, you can saunter around their museum while you wait for it to dry. I also went outside with my camera; the first three pictures here are right outside.

But the museum was cool; I enjoyed the paper being used for decoration more than the paper used to illustrate paper lore.

Paper lanterns at the Abe memorial museum in Yakumo, Shimane
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Paper-and-branch wall hanging at the Abe memorial museum in Yakumo, Shimane

It’s a nice spot to visit, and the countryside around it is special. In the extremely unlikely event that you’re in the neighborhood, drop by.

author · Dad
colophon · rights

September 22, 2009
· The World (144 fragments)
· · Places
· · · Japan (4 fragments)
· · · · Shimane (8 more)
· Technology (90 fragments)
· · Ruby (93 more)
· Arts (11 fragments)
· · Photos (975 more)

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