Tosa Washi is one of the Japanese traditional paper


Tosa Washi has a history of more than 1,000 years

Tosa washi is a type of Japanese paper made in Kochi Prefecture, especially in Tosa City and the Ino-chocho area. It has a long history and is said to have been made in this area for about 1,000 years. There are said to be about 300 varieties of Tosa washi, including a type of handmade washi called “Tosa Tengu Jyo-shi,” which is so thin that it is also called “mayfly’s feather.

 In 1976, Tosa washi was recognized by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry as a national traditional craft. In addition, Tosa noriwagucho-gami and Tosa seicho-gami have been designated as important intangible cultural assets by the government.


The “Tosa” in Tosa washi refers to the former name of Kochi Prefecture. The Niyodo River, a clear stream with a unique clear blue color, flows through this area, which produces high-quality kozo kouzo, the raw material for washi, and the area was blessed with the water and raw materials necessary for washi making. Kozo grown in Tosa, where the climate is warm and rainfall is abundant, have thicker and longer fibers than Kozo grown in other areas, and the fibers are tightly intertwined with each other, making it easy to produce thin but strong paper.

Tosa Japanese paper
Earrings with Tosa-Washi / Source: Hot Kochi web

There are four prefectures (Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi) in the Shikoku region to which Kochi Prefecture belongs. Three of these prefectures produce washi, making Kochi one of the largest washi-producing regions in Japan. (Tokushima produces Awa washi and Ehime for Ozu washi. The biggest reason is the clear water. As explained in this article (the diversity of traditional Japanese crafts), region, climate, and geography are key factors in the formation of traditional Japanese crafts. The Shikoku region is a large island and is located across the sea from Honshu. Therefore, nature remains clean and the water conditions for making washi are preserved. Even though it is across the sea, it is extremely close, so there are bridges that can be crossed by train or car.

Japanese paper product
Source: morisa corp. twitter

History of Tosa Washi

Tosa washi has a long history. The “Engi-shiki”, a book written in 927 during the Heian period (794-1192), records the manufacture of paper in the area that is now Kochi Prefecture. In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the shogunate made Sugihara-gami, a high-quality paper that became the official paper of the shogunate and was produced in large quantities, and Kochi City and Ino Town in present-day Kochi Prefecture donated it to the shogunate, indicating the existence of advanced paper manufacturing technology that formed the foundation of Tosa washi during this period.

Production went into full swing during the Edo period (1603-1867)

It was during the Edo period (1603-1867) that the Tosa washi industry took root in earnest, thanks to the establishment of the shogunate and clan system and the increase in demand for paper. The “seven-colored paper” invented by Aki Saburozaemon Ietomo, the founder of Tosa washi, was presented to the shogunate as Tosa Domain Imperial Paper.

Yoshii’s Activities and Post-World War II Depression

In the Meiji period (1868-1912), Tosa washi made a great leap forward in both technology and sales thanks to Yoshii’s invention of the renzukiki. The paper was exported to the U.S. and Europe from this time until the Showa period (1926-1989) as typewriter paper, which was becoming popular in the U.S. and Europe.

Later, in 1904, the Kochi Prefecture Paper Industry Association was organized. Western papermaking techniques were also added by Kitsuma Yamazaki, who accompanied Tomomi Iwakura and others on their tours of Europe and the United States, and remained afterward to study papermaking techniques in Germany. However, handmade washi production, which had flourished until the early Taisho period (1912-1926) as a side job during off-season farming, declined significantly due to the recession after World War I. Machine papermaking became the mainstream. Machine papermaking became the mainstream.

Then, to the present day

Tosa washi was designated as a national traditional craft in 1976, but with two world wars and economic changes, the paper industry began to shift to Western paper. The washi industry is in danger of disappearing nationwide. However, there is an aspect of thin and strong Tosa washi that is valued both domestically and internationally as a restoration paper for cultural assets. In addition, new ways of perceiving and disseminating washi as a traditional paper are spreading, with the government backing up projects to utilize washi as a material for artistic expression.

Manufacturing Method for Tosa Washi

1. Boiling

Tosa washi is made mainly from three plants: kozo (paper mulberry), mitsumata (mitsumata), and gampi (gampi). The bark of these three plants is used to make washi. The method of making washi differs slightly depending on the quality and use of the paper, but in the case of kozo, the basic method is to separate the white part from the outer black part, wash it, and expose it to water. Then, after a certain time of exposure to cold water, the raw materials are boiled. Here, the key to making washi is not to simply boil it in hot water only. To make beautiful washi, alkaline solutions such as soda ash and slaked lime are added and boiled for 2 to 4 hours. By adding alkaline substances in this way, it is possible to extract only pure fibers.

2. Washing in water and bleaching

Next, the raw materials of boiled washi are washed away in a clear stream. This is a labor-intensive process that is repeated over the course of a day and night, spread thinly and washed away. The washed washi is then bleached by drying it in the sun and bleaching it with bleaching solution. The raw materials that have taken on a tinge of color due to steaming are gradually whitened by exposing them to the sun for three to four days.

3. Dusting

After boiling and washing, some of the skin and dust still remain on the material. Chiritori is the process of carefully removing such excess parts by hand. By thoroughly removing dust, it is possible to create a strong washi that is more resistant to stains and deterioration over time.

Tosa Japanese paper mask
Source: CO-OP LIFE  Tokushima

4. Tataki

Once the excess material has been removed by chiritori, the next step is to beat the fibers. Instead of spreading the fibers out and beating them, the fibers are rolled into dumplings and beaten with a stick. Recently, beating is increasingly being done by machine. The purpose of beating is to make it easier to break down the fibers during the kamisuki process. Fibers that have been beaten firmly will spread out softly when placed in water.


The thoroughly beaten fibers are submerged in a basket called a “koburi kago” filled with water to disperse them thoroughly. This “koburi” process is an important step in determining the quality of the paper.

6. Paper Making (KAMISUKI)

Once the fibers are firmly in place, it is time to make the paper. First, before the paper is made, nori is added to the fibers to bring them to the state of paper. Trolloe is often used for Tosa washi. While unraveling the fibers of the raw material, nori such as tororo-aoi is added. If the amount of Nori is too little, water will drain out, and if there is too much, it will not be able to be drained.

Once the nori and fibers are thoroughly mixed, the paper is ready for the papermaking stage, which can be done in two ways: nagashizuki or tamezuki. Nagashizuki” is better known as handmade washi. The fibers are scooped into a sukibune and shaken or strained so that they are evenly distributed. This process requires skill because it must be adjusted to achieve uniformity.

The tamezuki technique involves saving the fibers and draining them of water. Because the density changes as it is strained, skill is required to make it the same thickness.

7. Dehydration

The strained material is then thoroughly drained. Generally, a weight is placed on top of the strained paper and left overnight before dehydrating it in a presser. Until a decade ago, a lever was used.

8. Drying

After dehydration is complete, the paper is dried thoroughly to make Japanese paper. Currently, two drying methods are used: sun-drying and thermal drying. In the sun-drying method, which is often used, each sheet of washi is carefully stretched on a drying board and dried in the sunlight.

9. Cutting and Packing

The finished washi is not yet suitable for use. Therefore, the next step is to carefully cut the paper into Ichijo, which is the size of a sheet. Ten sets of 200 sheets of washi per bundle are collected to make 2000 sheets of washi per bundle, which are then packaged as a trading unit called a “maru” (1 maru).

Tosa Japanese paper
Source: Tosabushi

Key points

Tosa washi is characterized by its thinness and durability. Tosa nogucho-gami, produced only in Ino-cho, is the thinnest handmade washi with a thickness of only 0.03 to 0.05 mm, and is highly valued by museums, gold leaf for temples and shrines, and even the for the restoration old documents and cultural and historucal assets. Although we do not have many opportunities to see it in our daily lives, it is an important piece of paper that supports historical buildings and cultural assets in your country.


    Tosa Cutlery

 1        2 

Let's share this post !