Ogawa Town has long been renowned as a center of washi production. It is located close to Tokyo, in the heart of the Saitama Prefecture, a mountainous region with the clear streams necessary for the process of making the paper. The first documentation of paper being produced in Ogawa dates back to A.D. 774.
’Hosokawa-shi’ is a very high quality, thin paper, made by a Master Papermaker from all-natural materials, and is the most representative paper of the region. This traditional technique of paper making was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list on November 27, 2014.
You can visit the Ogawa Washi Learning Centre and experience daily paper making workshops at the Saitama Craft Centre.
We saw several stages in the process of washi papermaking on our trip to Ogawa. Our first stop was at the Ogawa Washi Learning Centre, where we saw an incredible sight: kozo branches, cut to the same size and hidden in a steamer covered by a tarp, which was sending billowing clouds of steam up to the ceiling, creeping over the gutters, and then climbing the roof up to the sky.
Inside, a small group was stripping the branches of their bark, then cleaning the bark for use in papermaking: a green layer for lower quality paper, and the purest white bark, for the highest quality paper. We were shown a neri root, sitting in a small tub of water, releasing its gelatinous secretion. This glue-like substance is added to the water along with the hand-processed plant fibers, and helps the fibers stay together during the papermaking process.
The Ogawa Washi Learning Center has been a useful resource in the town of Ogawa, training further generations of maker to carry on the 1300-year-old traditions.
Further into the mountains, we visited Saitama Craft, a learning center and shop, where you could purchase paper from many local makers. Workshops are available for all ages, and it is a gathering center for people interested in all kinds of local crafts. You will also enjoy the giant sculpture of a papermaker in the parking lot.
We then visited Washi-no-Sato, even further into the mountains. (You can also get lunch here.) The workshop is located on a historical site, with facilities for residencies, a restaurant, a historical building with tools used by papermakers 150 years ago, and of course the papermaking studio and small store.
Our final stop was at the wonderful studio of Hisako Uchimura. She is recognized as making some of the finest paper in Ogawa, and is a true Master of washi papermaking. She takes on apprentices and passes along her knowledge and experience. Uchimura was not always a papermaker; she worked in a department store, until, in 1995, she decided to do a training course at the Ogawa Washi Learning Center. Her very high standards meant that she learned quickly, and in 2002 she established her own washi studio, Uchimura Washi. She has received a letter of appreciation from the Council of National Important Intangible Cultural Asset Holder Groups, an agency under the Agency for Cultural Affairs. She is kind and welcoming in her studio, and her paper is of the very highest quality.
You can watch a video about Ogawa Washi production created by a group focused on Ogawa culture, called OidenaSay! OGAWA, here.