One very big sheet of paper and the man-machine that made it

In late April, Paul and I were invited by Tsuguo Yanai to go with him to the small papermaking village, Nishijima in the Saitama Prefecture, near the city of Kofu. I had met Yanai-san in February through Emiko. He took me on a tour of some of the galleries in Ginza and later, I visited his studio in Hanno.  In April, we were both busy preparing for our exhibitions that would be held in May (for me) and in June (for Yanai-san).  We both needed kozo pulp for our work and he arranged a visit to the Yamaju Seishi Papermill.

Arriving in Nishijima, we were met by Shinji and Chiyoko Kasai, the owners of the family-run papermill. They invited us to lunch at a local restaurant. The specialty of the house was black udon noodles. Luckily for us, Chiyoko had spent a year or more in United States and spoke great English. Yanai-san is fluent in both English and French having spent four years in Paris where he studied art. Although he admitted finding it difficult at times to understand my Québec accent, he and I always spoke in French.

After lunch, they showed us through the community papermaking workshop and store. The equipment was amazing. I bought some locally made washi papers for ink-jet printing. Here are some photos taken of our lunch together and the visit to the Nishijima papermaking workshop.

From there we were led to Kasai-san’s, Yamaju Seishi Papermill.  A supplier of large-format, high quality papers for calligraphy, Kasai-san is also in the process of developing a specialty paper for working with gold leaf. This straw-fibre paper is beaten or more appropriately – pounded for hours with one of those earth levelling and pounding machines used in landscaping and road building – the name of which I have no idea. I’ll include pictures of this paper in the album below. Kasai-san’s father created a machine that prepared the exact ratio of kozo pulp to water and the exact quantity needed to fill a large su to create one sheet of paper. I have a video below of the making of one giant sheet of calligraphy paper.  The paper is stacked and pressed to be later re-hydrated, separated then heat-dried by women with very quick and perfect gestures. I was encouraged to try my hand at the machine. Later in June,  Shinji and Chiyoko surprised me with a visit to Komagome Contemporary Art Gallery, where I was exhibiting my work and presented me with the sheet of paper that I had made that day in Nishijima. Getting it home intact was a feat!

Making Paper at Yamaju Seishi Paper mill