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The Search for Wonderful Washi: Tokyo, Japan

One trick to traveling cheaper is to hack tours.  When I arrive in a new place, I do a Google search of day tours and see if I can reverse engineer them and do them without the tour.  Such was the case with today’s visit to a Washi paper store.  Instead of paying a tour operator, I found the business with a quick Google search and walked there myself.  Free, and even more satisfying.

 

Inside Ozu Washi store

Inside Ozu Washi store. They sell silk-screened papers from all over Japan in addition to washi paper.

 

I’ve always been a paper addict.  In fact, giving up my handmade paper collection was one of the hardest partings I experienced when relinquishing most all of my worldly possessions back in 2013.  I admire the craftsmanship and the textures and designs.  My brain sparkles when I look at paper and imagine the endless creative uses.  If you’re also a paper geek, you get it.  If not, this post will probably be a snoozer.

Paper was invented by the Chinese in 105 AD, but it would take 505 years before it was brought to Japan in 610 AD by a Buddhist priest.  Since that time, Japan has refined the art. Handmade washi paper is designated by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.  That sounds like a bad sentence, but that’s how it’s stated.  Fundamentally, washi paper has been recognized as a cherished and important part of Japanese culture and tradition.

 

Washi paper flowers

Flower wreath made from washi paper.

 

Washi, usually made from the pulp of the mulberry tree (but it can be made fromgampi tree bark, mitsumata shrubs, hemp, bamboo, rice or wheat) is incredibly soft, strong and water-resistant.  It’s used for printmaking, letterpress printing, making lanterns, fans, bookbinding, umbrella-making, art restoration work, blinds and crafts of all kinds.  Pure white washi is also used in religious ceremonies for protection from evil spirits.  Jesuit missionaries helped spread its popularity by using washi for printing books.  Even Rembrandt appreciated the fine qualities of washi, using it for his sketches.

The sun shines for the first time since my arrival and I walk quite a distance to find the understated building of Ozu Washi, a paper shop which has been at the same location since 1653.  For 500 yen (or about $5US), you can learn how washi is made and make a sheet of your own to take home.  Having made paper before, I skip this and just enjoy perusing the store filled with all types of paper treasure, ink, calligraphy brushes and silkscreened paper from all over Japan.  I especially enjoy the small handmade washi envelopes which are used by the Japanese people when giving gifts of money.  If you’re really into it, Ozu Washi also offers a washi museum open by appointment and classes in calligraphy and paper art. Location.

 

Inside Ozu Washi store

Paper treasures await inside the Ozu Washi store.

 

I try like hell to escape without buying anything, but it’s a lost cause.  I spend $30 on some precious and beautiful small envelopes and origami paper.  If my suitcase were bigger, and I didn’t have a long journey ahead, the damage would have been far worse.

On my way back to my hotel I find another paper shop within a few blocks of Ozu Washi called Kawashima Co.,Ltd, founded in 1673.  I also recommend a peek in this place as their offerings were different but no less beautiful. Location.

My walks in this city are such a treat, with seemingly endless discoveries down every block and in every direction.  Without the fear for my safety should I end up in the wrong neighborhood, as there are no wrong neighborhoods in daytime Tokyo, the world really is my oyster and I am limited only by the eventual fatigue of my feet.  This is incredibly fun and totally liberating.  Of course, no place is 100% crime-free, but few places I’ve visited offer such freedom to the solo female traveler.

 

Vertical architecture

The very vertical architecture of Tokyo.  It seems no footprint is too small!

 

As I arrive at 7-11 to search for my evening meal, I note that the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” is playing overhead, as it is every time I enter.  How weird is that?

“Now you know how happy I can be.

Oh, and our good times start and end

Without dollar one to spend.

But how much, baby, do we really need…”

Indeed.


 

Photos of the Day: Walking through Tokyo and Washi Stores

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