Skin deep: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

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This picture taken on March 15, 2019 shows a worker putting steamed kozo plants in a water tank during the “washi” paper manufacturing process at the Hidaka Washi factory in Hidaka, Kochi prefecture, some 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tokyo. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)
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This picture taken on June 4, 2019 shows Takao Makino, head of the Kibi conservation studio, carefully applying “washi” onto a brush onto golden sticks representing the halo of a Buddhist statue estimated to be around 800 years old, in Saitama, outside Tokyo. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)
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This picture taken on March 15, 2019 shows Hiroyoshi Chinzei, president of Hidaka Washi, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, checking the “washi” paper manufacturing process at his factory in Hidaka, Kochi prefecture, some 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tokyo. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)
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This picture taken on March 15, 2019 shows Hidaka Washi president Hiroyoshi Chinzei, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, displaying the world’s thinnest paper at his factory in Hidaka, Kochi prefecture, some 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tokyo. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)
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This picture taken on March 15, 2019 shows a worker standing behind the world’s thinnest “washi” paper at the Hidaka Washi factory in Hidaka, Kochi prefecture, some 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tokyo. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)
Updated 20 June 2019

Skin deep: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

  • Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries
  • The traditional hand-made paper is manufactured from plants called kozo, or mulberry, which has fibers that are much longer than materials used for paper in the west such as wood and cotton

HIDAKA, Japan: Once an indispensable part of daily life in Japan, ultra-thin washi paper was used for everything from writing and painting to lampshades, umbrellas, and sliding doors, but demand has plunged as lifestyles have become more westernized.
Despite its 1,300-year history and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, washi paper is struggling to attract consumers and the market value has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past two decades.
But at a small workshop in western Japan, Hiroyoshi Chinzei, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, creates washi with a unique purpose that may help revive interest — both at home and abroad.
Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries — including the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum and Washington’s Library of Congress — from decay.
“Washi paper is more flexible and durable” than what Japanese refer to as “western paper,” which disintegrates into tiny pieces when it becomes very old, the 50-year-old told AFP.
The traditional hand-made paper is manufactured from plants called kozo, or mulberry, which has fibers that are much longer than materials used for paper in the west such as wood and cotton.
“Old Japanese books from the seventh or eighth century remain in good condition... thanks to the fibers of the kozo plants,” the washi maker told AFP at his small factory in Hidaka, a village 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

The papermaking process begins with steaming the kozo plants and peeling off the bark, which is then boiled until soft, while impurities are removed by hand in clear water.
The fibers are then beaten and mixed with glue and water, before being placed on a wooden screen.
This screen is then dipped repeatedly in water with the fibers and shaken to spread the liquid evenly to make a sheet of paper, a technique which requires years to master.
Because washi is hard to break, damaged, old documents can be reinforced by attaching a piece of washi or sandwiching them between two sheets of the paper, Chinzei explained.
For documents, transparency is key to be able to see the text, meaning the thinner the washi, the better.
Chinzei’s washi, a type called tengu-joshi paper also known as “the wings of a mayfly,” is 0.02 millimeters thick and weighs 1.6 grams per square meter.
This compared to a standard sheet of photocopy paper, which is about 0.09 millimeters thick and weighs 70 grams per square meter.
“It’s a mesh-like paper mainly made with fibers... It’s as thin as human skin,” Chinzei said.
Using both machines and hand-made techniques passed down for generations, the firm can create ultra-thin paper, which is also used by conservationists to restore and protect cultural objects.
One such conservationist, Takao Makino, carefully applies washi with a brush onto golden sticks representing the halo of a Buddhist statue estimated to be around 800 years old.
Makino said he used washi for the first time in 2007 to protect the surface of one of the two main statues at Tokyo’s historic Sensoji Temple.
“The surface was damaged and peeled off. So we covered all of it (with washi) to contain the damage,” the 68-year-old said.
“Washi naturally fits into intricately-shaped sculptures, but papers with chemical fibers or wrapping films don’t,” he said.
“The history proves washi is very durable... The material is pure, strong and lasting. It’s reliable.”
The production of the Japanese paper peaked in the Edo period between the 17th and late 19th centuries but declined as papermaking was mechanized.
Now, due to the westernization of Japan, the washi market is shrinking again, Chinzei said.
“We have no tatami rooms and almost no space to display a hanging scroll in the current lifestyle,” he said.
“Washi used for those things are now gone.”
According to the industry ministry, the total value of handmade washi dropped to 1.78 billion yen in 2016 from 4.15 billion yen in 1998, while that of washi for calligraphy and shoji sliding screens fell to 5.86 billion yen from 25.1 billion yen.
Chinzei didn’t plan on taking over his family trade and went to business school in Seattle to study finance.
“But I came back... because I felt responsible for passing the baton to the next generation,” he said, hoping to find ways to expand the market.
The volume of washi used for restoration is still small, but it’s been shipped to more than 40 countries and Chinzei is hopeful interest will grow.
He explained: “For restoring cultural assets and as a canvas for art... I think washi has the potential to be used more in the world of art.”


‘My quest’: Priyanka Chopra brings Bollywood to Toronto

Updated 14 September 2019

‘My quest’: Priyanka Chopra brings Bollywood to Toronto

  • Priyanka Chopra was the first Indian actress to lead a primetime US series
  • ‘The Sky is Pink is Chopra’s first Hindi-language film in three year

TORONTO: No Indian star has made a bigger splash in Hollywood than Priyanka Chopra — and the “Baywatch” actress said she is on a quest to shatter myths about Bollywood, including its approach to sex.
Chopra was the first Indian actress to lead a primetime US series with FBI thriller “Quantico,” and cemented her global celebrity status by marrying pop singer Nick Jonas last December.
That star power secured a glitzy, red-carpet slot at Toronto’s film festival for “The Sky is Pink,” Chopra’s first Hindi-language film in three years. It is the only Asian film on the prestigious gala lineup at North America’s biggest movie festival.
“People get surprised when they see ‘The Sky is Pink’ and they’re like, ‘this is not a Bollywood movie.’ Bollywood is not a genre!” Chopra said ahead of the premiere Friday.
“It really is my quest to educate people in that.”
Directed by Shonali Bose, “The Sky is Pink” tells the tragic true story of Aisha Chaudhary, an inspirational Delhi teenager whose life was cut short by a rare genetic disorder.
Chaudhary delivered a TED talk and wrote a book on her battle before her death in 2015 at the age of 18. But the film focuses on her parents, exploring how their marriage and love — and even their sex life — survived the loss of two children.
Until recently kissing was rarely shown in films made by conservative Bollywood, better known abroad for its colorful musical numbers and fairytale romantic plots.
“I don’t think we haven’t spoken about sexuality in Indian films — we do,” said Chopra, 37. “I think sexuality is spoken about in many different ways in Indian cinema.”
“It’s culturally sensitive, yes,” she added. “India is an amalgamation of modernity and tradition. And this film is made by a modern Indian. So hence, you see what her language is. This is true to who she is.”
Bose, whose own marriage ended after she lost her son, was approached by Chaudhary’s parents to make the film.
Chaudhary had been a fervent fan of the director’s work, and never fulfilled her “dying wish” to see Bose’s previous film “Margarita With A Straw.”
Bose said she was moved by the request but chose to focus on the parents after learning of their “amazing” love story and care for their child.
“They wanted the film to be about their heroic dying teenage girl, and I don’t feel she would’ve wanted to be on a pedestal — actually she was really cool and humble,” she said.
Chopra, who does not have children, said she drew on others’ experiences, including Bose’s, to play Chaudhary’s mother Aditi.
But there is plenty of Chopra in the role too. At one point her character is described as “the ‘almost’ Miss India.” Chopra herself was crowned Miss World in 2000.
As beauty pageants led to acting, Chopra, who attended school in the US, said she held onto her global outlook.
Also a singer, Chopra has released songs with US chart-toppers including Pitbull and The Chainsmokers.
“It’s a genuine quest of mine to be able to cross-pollinate cultures, and to be able to take Indian cinema to the globe as much as I can,” she said, adding: “It’s not the language that’s the barrier — it is the fear of the unknown.”
Movie-mad India has the largest film industry in the world in terms of the number produced — up to 2,000 every year in more than 20 languages, according to industry data.
Bollywood star Akshay Kumar regularly appears in Forbes’ annual list of the world’s top 10 highest-paid actors.
In recent years Bollywood’s influence has spread in North America, thanks to a growing, affluent South Asian diaspora — and a smattering of Western converts.
But while other Bollywood actors and actresses have landed high-profile roles in the US, such as Deepika Padukone in 2017’s “XXX: Return of Xander Cage,” none are as recognizable as Chopra.
“I really hope that there’s so many more entertainers from India that get the opportunity and push themselves toward global entertainment,” said Chopra.
“The world of entertainment is so global now,” she added. “With streaming coming in everyone from anywhere can watch anything.”