TANGE TETSUO, WASHI MAKER
The simplest items in our daily lives are not necessarily worthless or meaningless: this is the strongest feeling a visitor receives at the studio of Tange Tetsuo, a washi (Japanese paper) maker. Modern paper mills are huge factories, producing mile-long rolls of paper that might be very useful and functional, but carry no feeling or warmth. Tange's capacity is much smaller: he makes either 200 top-quality washi sheets (about 100 cm X 40 cm) a day, or 400 sheets of lesser quality. However, the paper he makes is so wonderful that, at end of our visit, all the people involved in the production of this homepage stood in line to buy it.
Tange lives and works in a large Japanese-style house right by the tracks of a major train line, not exactly the kind of environment in which one would expect to find an artisan known for such refined, delicate work. More fitting would be a small house up in the mountains, with a river flowing by it: exactly the sort of place in which Tange actually lived until 25 years ago, when his home 70 km from Kurashiki was sunken under a lake created by a newly built dam. Modern Japan is not always a friendly place for people who wish to maintain their old lifestyle and livelihood.
There are three different kinds of tree bark from which washi is made, and depending on the kind of paper required, they are either blended or used separately. Turning the raw materials into washi pulp is unbelievably hard, and Tange is one of only 400 washi makers nationwide who still insist on doing the whole process by hand; the rest rely on machines to do the back-breaking work for them. Manual work may be slower and more expensive, but the final products clearly show its superiority.
The result is paper with personality, something that feels great to touch and to write on. It is not surprising that most of Tange's clients are famous calligraphers and their students, who come from afar to buy his incrediblewashi.