Inshu Washi Makes The Most Of Clean Water and Trees


Inshu washi boasts one of the highest quality of all washi

Paper introduced from Europe and the United States after the Meiji era (1868-1912) is called “Western paper,” while paper made by traditional Japanese methods is called “Washi. Of course, long before the introduction of Western paper to Japan, paper was being made in Japan using traditional methods. The history of Inshu washi is particularly long, and although its origins have not been specified, washi has been made in Tottori, a region well suited for papermaking, since at least 1,300 years ago. Through repeated trial and error and tradition, the strong and high quality washi of today’s Innshu washi was developed over this long history.

Both paper and washi are made from plant fibers, but the main difference lies in the raw materials. The main raw materials for washi are kozo (paper mulberry), mitsumata (mitsumata), and kanpi (gampi), and the fibers are extracted from the bark of each tree and used to make the desired washi.

inshu washi
source: Tottori trip (

Among washi used for calligraphy and Japanese painting, Inshu washi is one of the top class in Japan in terms of production. It is known as “Inshu Washi” because it is smooth to write on, the brush does not deteriorate, and the ink does not fade and lasts for a long time. Incidentally, traditional washi crafts include Tosa Washi, Ozu Washi, and Awa Washi.

In addition, Inshu Washi is actively adopting new technologies and techniques. In addition to “tesuki,” or handmade paper, machine-made paper has been introduced in recent years. Craftsmen are constantly researching to produce washi that is as good as handmade washi. In addition, the company was the first in the world to establish a method of making washi in three dimensions, known as “three-dimensional papermaking. This method produces seamless, smooth washi products in a variety of shapes.

manufacturing Inshu Washi
source: Tottori prefecture (

History of Inshu Washi

The origin of Inshu washi is not known, but it was discovered in a Shosoin document from the Nara period in the mid-8th century, with the Inaba country seal stamped on it, and is preserved in the Shosoin. In addition, there is a record in the Engishiki (905-927) of the Heian period (794-1185) that 70 loaves of paper were presented to the Imperial Court from the Land of Inaba. For these reasons, Inshu washi is said to have a history of more than 1,300 years.

During the Edo period (1603-1867), Inshu washi was especially popular as both official paper for the domain and for use by the general public, and was traded at the paper market. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), under the guidance of the prefectural government, efforts were made to cultivate mitsumata, the raw material for washi. The number of factories producing Innshu washi increased from approximately 50 in the Edo period to more than 1,300, a dramatic increase in production, which continued until the end of the Taisho period.

 In the Showa period (1926-1989), the production capacity of western paper improved, and inversely, Innshu washi gradually gave up its position as paper used by the general public to that of western paper. In an unusual use, the excellence of Innshu Washi’s Kozo paper-making technology was recognized as the base paper for the balloon bombs made by the Japanese army during World War II, and the government even requested the production of this paper.

After the war, office-use washi and shoji paper, which had been the main products until then, suffered a devastating blow due to the rise of office machines and drastic changes in lifestyle. However, Innshu Washi focused its efforts on calligraphy paper such as gasengami, craft paper, and dyed paper, and its superior quality outstripped that of products from other production centers, and to this day it is used by many washi lovers and calligraphers nationwide.

Manufacturing  Method for Inshu Japanese Paper

1. Raw Materials

The main materials used to make Innshu
washi are mitsumata, kozo (paper mulberry), and gampi (gampi). The raw
materials are selected according to the type of washi to be made, and then
soaked in water to soften them and make them easier to boil. Wash off sand,
dust, and other unnecessary matter, and remove the outer surface “black
skin” by stroking it with a knife.

2. Boil

The raw material’s bark contains much of
the fiber element (cellulose) that is the raw material for washi, but it also
contains other substances. Boiling” is a process to extract only the
fibers necessary for washi. The raw materials are soaked in water again to
soften them, and then water is added to an iron kettle along with bamboo,
straw, hemp, and chemicals such as caustic soda and soda ash (sodium carbonate)
to make it alkaline and boil it. The boiling time varies depending on the raw
materials and type of alkali, but for kozo, it takes about 2 to 3 hours. A
distinctive sweet smell wafts through the workshop.

3. Washing in water and bleaching

During the boiling process, substances such
as pectin and lignin, which link the fibers of the bark, are easily dissolved
in water. The raw materials are washed in water to remove unnecessary
substances and chemicals, leaving only the fiber elements. The material is then
exposed to clear water to wash away small particles of dirt and debris, and
anything unnecessary for washi is carefully removed by hand.

4. Tataki

In this process, the fibers of the bound
and hardened raw materials are beaten with a stick to break them into small
pieces. This process makes it easier for the raw material fibers to intertwine
with each other when the paper is made, thereby increasing the strength of the
washi. On the other hand, if the beating is not sufficient, the washi will be
coarse and low in strength. In addition to manual work, a machine called a
“beater” is sometimes used in the tataki process. When coloring the
paper, dye is added at this time to achieve the desired color.

5. Paper Making (KAMISUKI)

Paper making is the core process of Inshu
Washi, using a sukibune and sumigeta. Impurities are removed from the beaten
raw material (shiryo), which is then conditioned by adding mucilage extracted
from the roots of the tororoaoi plant.

Water is filled in the boat, the paper
material is put in, and the boat is pumped up with a bamboo screen. The fibers
are then mixed together by shaking the boat so that the thickness of the entire
sheet of paper becomes uniform. In the case of Inshu Washi, this process is
repeated many times to make layers of paper, and the desired thickness of paper
is produced.

6. Dehydration

This is the process of removing water from
the wet paper. To keep the paper’s shape intact, several hundred sheets of wet
paper are stacked on top of each other and pressed with gently increasing
pressure to thoroughly remove the water.

7. Drying

After pressing, the dehydrated wet paper is
carefully peeled off one sheet at a time and carefully attached to the drying
board with a brush to prevent wrinkles. In addition to drying in the sun, a
drying room is sometimes used.

8. Cutting

The dried sheets of paper are examined one
by one, and defective paper with holes or scratches is selected. The paper is
then cut according to the type of paper, such as gasengami or hanshi. Cutting
is done by traditional “hand cutting” using a knife, cutting board,
and ruler, or by machine.

Inshu Washi
Tottori prefectural Government (


Because of its high quality, Inshu Washi was used as the official paper for the Tottori Clan. The quality of this paper is so high that it has been described as “I can write two sheets of paper while writing one sheet on other paper,” and “the brush is so smooth that it runs quickly, the brush is not damaged, and the ink does not run out. This is the reason why Washi is loved by experts in various fields and is the largest producer of washi in Japan, even though the opportunities for Japanese people to use washi are decreasing.


    Yumihama Kasuri

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