The Tradition of Japanese Paper - Washi

For centuries the imperial court has held the tradition of paper-making in the highest regard. The concept of paper (washi) as a sublime surface, essential to Japanese culture and life permeates the entire society. In its early history washi was reserved for the privileged classes: the aristocracy, priests and samurai. Later the coveted washi traveled as far as Europe and reached the Netherlands. Rembrandt treasured its responsive quality particularly for some of his etchings. Today washi continues to be revered in Japan and around the world. Prized for its beauty, archival qualities and great longevity, washi has timeless appeal.

The art of paper-making has always been harmonious with the cycles of nature. Sensitive to the earth, paper-makers choose the best time to make paper according to the seasons and even to subtle weather conditions. The long, inner fibers of the kozo (mulberry), gampi (indigenous to Japan), and mitsumata (indigenous to Japan), as well as rice are used.

Qualities of Washi

The age-old process of washi-making produces a beautiful surface that can retain great tonal subtleties. Theartist, appreciative of the unique absorbencies of different papers, seeks one that is ideal for particular brush strokes. Although paper may look and feel similar at first glance, each has the potential to respond to the Sumi ink in a distinctive way. Timing is critical in the micro-movements of theSumi-e brush as it delivers ink to the paper. This is analogous to the way a master musician must be aware of the speed at which his sound responds in a concert hall, amphitheater or other acoustic environment.

Japanese Scrolls

Master craftsmen precisely cut washi for mounting on a brocaded silk surface to form an elegant scroll. The long sweeping proportions offer exciting compositional possibilities. In the horizontal scroll, time unfolds and stretches out. The eye lingers, moves across and back, experiencing the narrative. In the vertical scroll, the Sumi-e artist can shift perspectives to create an arresting composition. The striking vertical scroll can shape, open, and even animate the expansive space around it. Both types of scrolls offer the possibilities of telling stories.


Shikishi, mounted washi, edged in gold can be custom made in a particular size for a specific space.