KURASHIKI

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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 tree bark is soaked in water and then cooked in a solution that is 13-20% carbonic acid. Then the bark is washed and impurities, amounting to 60% of the total weight, are removed. The remaining 40% is pounded down to pulp,and then soaked again. After another selection in which the remaining impurities are removed, and natural dyes are added, if necessary, a natural adhesive agent is added and the pulp is ready. The paper is made in a flat container with a perforated bottom, which the washi maker dips into the bath of pulp-and-water, and shakes to create an even layer of the required thickness(washi thickness can vary from very thin to something resembling rough cloth). The finished sheets are put under a press to remove excess water, put out to dry on wooden trays, and are cut to the ordered size.

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.

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