Japanese Washi, listed of UNESCO Intangible Heritage Items
One of my favorite Japanese products is washi paper – it is beautiful, natural and comes in a large variety of patterns and designs. Washi is traditional style of paper that is made in Japan. The “wa” means Japanese, and “shi” means paper. Washi is one of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Objects, and is traditionally made using the fibers from three plants: the paper mulberry, the mitsumata shrub, and gampi tree bark. It can also be made from bamboo, hemp, rice and wheat.
Where to get Japanese Washi Paper
If you are in the Tokyo area, the best store to buy washi and all washi products is Ozu Washi, a washi shop in Nihonbashi that has been around since 1652. In my opinion, it is the best store in the city for washi paper, which is much more common in the countryside of Japan, as it was traditionally produced by farmers. For a densely populated city like Tokyo, a shop of this calibre is a rare find.
All the paper is made in-house, through the handmade process which is believed to have begun around 700 A.D. during the Heian Period. Ozu Washi has been specializing in washi paper for more than 350 years. The dedication and expertise to the art of paper production is very clear, from the quality of the products to the attentiveness of the staff.
Ozu Washi specializes in different kinds of paper, in all different sizes, colors and patterns. There are hundreds of different flat files and shelves that you can spend hours sorting through. There are also sets of smaller sheets of paper sold in rolls, between four and six sheets, for lower prices – perfect for experimenting with patterns if you don’t want to commit to large sheets.
Washi, for Calligraphy, Ukiyo-e, and Origami!
Washi is used in many Japanese arts such as origami, shodo (calligraphy), ukiyo-e, and even to conserve and restore books. I personally love to use washi for decoration and artwork, as well as for giving gifts. The last time I was in Ozu Washi I was on a mission to find gifts for friends who had never visited Japan before – I was pleasantly surprised by how many perfect gifts I found. They have beautifully decorated boxes, wallets, purses, lamps, business card holders, tons of stationary, and much more.
Even though many of the Japanese patterns people are interested in are available in thousands of shops around the city, I highly recommend stopping by this store if you are looking for traditional Japanese papers, stationary supplies, or gifts. Ozu Washi is high-class, handmade, traditional washi paper that has a long and rich history. The staff will graciously cut papers for you and wrap your purchases, and there are English speaking staff members available if you require detailed explanations.
Ozu Washi also has a History Museum!
This store also is more than just a shopping experience. In addition to the paper products, Ozu Washi also has a history museum, art gallery and culture classroom. You can even make your own sheet of washi paper and learn about the whole process; just make sure you make a reservation in advance. Ozu Washi offers various genres of classes, including calligraphy, engraving, and ink painting.
If you’re in Tokyo and have an interest in traditional Japanese culture or arts, I hope you have the time to make your way to Ozu Washi. Ozu Washi is a ten minute walk from Kanda Station and just a five minute walk from Mitsukoshi-Mae Station. Enjoy!