We had a great push this weekend and received over $1,594 in pledges in the past few days. The ball is rolling with just 9 days left, and I can’t thank you enough for all your support!
Today’s update is special…. not only is it an informative behind the scenes look into the World of Washi, but it’s also written by a guest author - my friend, and The Rare Orchid’s Japan agent , Ai Matsuda. I have known Ai for many years while we were both previously living in Hawaii, and she has been an integral part in the development of this next chapter for The Rare Orchid. She was a huge help to me on my "soul searching" trip to Japan this year, and helped to coordinate viarious washi resources visits for me all around Japan. As the company’s liaison to our sources of chiyogami, she will help to facilitate the paper order to ensure you receive your rewards on time; and has also been working to execute some of my custom color designs in the works.
Make sure to check out the PICTURES and VIDEO in the post too!
While we move into modern technologies where machines and mass production take over our world and businesses, there are less family businesses that continue their traditions and crafts. While I lived in Hawaii, I saw many local businesses and restaurants closing. After moving back to Japan permanently, I also see similarities here.
Production of washi (“wa” meaning Japanese, and “shi” meaning paper), is no exception to diminishing local businesses in Japan. Fewer families have the next generation taking over their businesses and some have no choice but to shut down. The main factory we work with that produces our chiyogami (silkscreened washi -sometimes called yuzen), currently operates with only 3 factory workers and the factory manager/owner. The factory’s owner is the son-in-law of the previous owner, who took over the business from his father-in-law when he was ready to retire. Although at first he was working at a food company where he met his wife, he was also interested in making or creating things that are “Wa – 和” (Japanese). Currently he has been in charge of the chiyogami factory for almost 13 years. All of their kozo washi (mulberry base paper) is made in Japan, and each paper is hand-silkscreened layer by layer, each color in a design requiring a different screen. The manager told me during an interview that they have had many struggles to maintain employees. The younger generation would rather work for bigger, well-known companies in urban areas, and the factory we work with is in the countryside of Japan.
The manager told me that currently his employees are finally stable; but what he struggles with is how to spread the quality of his washi. In recent years, many fake chiyogami styles of washi have been filling store shelves, including at the 100 yen stores ($1 store in the U.S.). The fake washi is just regular paper with chiyogami designs machine printed on them, and not hand-silkscreened. Real kozo washi is known to be stronger than foreign papers and is even used for Japanese paper-currency. The manager told me he has even seen some of his own designs being copied without his permission. I felt in his voice that he and his company have confidence and heart in their product, and the problem lies in how to communicate that to consumers and how to make them understand the difference in qualities. Meredith and I truly believe in this company and the chiyogami art form, and are committed to helping our factory and other sources of washi sustain in a world that is increasingly more high tech and focused on price over quality.
THE PROCESS OF CHIYOGAMI
Hand-silkscreening the washi requires one worker to go down the aisle of carefully placed kozo washi with his screen, with another worker following with a different screen. There is a third person who washes the screens right away so as not to let the paint dry and ruin them. This process repeats until the final design is complete. The manager says they usually use 5 or 6 different screens (colors) per design. Their factory has more than 1,000 designs, and with all the different colors for each design it would be more than 10,000 possibilities.
THE HISTORY OF CHIYOGAMI AND YUZEN
Chiyogami translates to "1,000 generation paper". It was developed during the Edo period, and is inspired by patterns used in kimono (Japanese robe) designs.
Chiyogami is sometimes also referred to as yuzen. Yuzen generally refers to a style of pattern, that has its roots in kimono designs. The yuzen name came from a person named Yuzensai Miyazaki, who designed and painted patterns for sensu (hand-held fans), which eventually got spread onto kimono design and other items as well.
Did you know that washi itself was added to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Intangible Cultural Heritage list just last week? According to the Japan Times, this move is “expected to help Japan boost global awareness of its traditional culture and spur interest among younger generations in keeping artisan skills alive.”
After visiting our factory and seeing the process of chiyogami on washi myself, I have a better understanding of washi and chiyogami, and appreciate washi more than before. It has really made me think of how we can help to save cultural heritage like this. The factory is made up of hard workers who are trying to perpetuate a tradition that is rich in history, and Meredith and I both feel strongly they should be supported.
Together with your help, we can assist in continuing the tradition of chiyogami and make it more accessible to the entire world. Your contributions to this project are greatly appreciated and we thank you for your generous support!