Washi literally translates to "Japanese paper", wa meaning Japanese and shi meaning paper. Contrary to current popular belief, it is not just tape. Since washi really just means paper, there are many different styles that fall under its category. The type of washi The Rare Orchid focuses on is called chiyogami or yuzen washi.
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 featuring ornate gold accents . The yuzen name came from a person named Yuzensai Miyazaki, who designed and painted patterns on sensu (hand-held fans), which eventually were applied to kimono and other items. Today chiyogami and yuzen both refer to the same style of hand-silkscreened washi where each color is screened layer by layer. Because of it's popularity, chiyogami yuzen washi is commonly referred to simply as washi.
While the term washi encompasses Japanese papers made out of many different materials, The Rare Orchid's washi papers are all kozo based. Kozo is the Japanese name for the paper mulberry plant (broussonetia papyrifera). Chiyogami has a thick, fabric-like quality and is very fibrous. Kozo washi is earth friendly as it is grown as a renewable crop. The strong inner bark fibers are pounded and mixed with water into a paste, and then pressed and dried into paper.
The process of silkscreening chiyogami yuzen washi is very tedious. Hand-silkscreening the washi requires one worker to go down the aisle of carefully placed kozo washi with one silkscreen, while another worker following with a different screen. A third person washes the screens right away so as not to let the paint dry and ruin them. This process is repeated until the final design is complete. Most designs average 5 or 6 different screens (colors) per design, but some intricate patterns use even more!
Here is a video taken from our main artisan factory in Japan showing part of the silk-screening process:
Below here you can see that our factory has hundreds upon hundreds of screens. This picture represents only a small portion of their screen collection!