Tosa Washi (6)

Tosa Washi (6)
Tosa Province on Shikoku Island, now Kochi Prefecture, is called "Tosa, the kingdom of paper". Kochi Prefecture is still Japan's main producing center of both material plants and handmade paper. Several towns such as Tosa and Ino are well-known for their traditional local paper industries. "Tosa Washi" which means all handmade paper of Kochi Prefecture is soft but strong, durable as well as beautiful. There is warmth in it because it is handmade. Recently there has been a revival in handmade paper, where Tosa Washi, especially famous for its large variety of high quality paper, plays an important role.

Paper has been made in Kochi for over 1,000 years. The papers "Hoshogami" and "Sugiwaragami" were dedicated to the Emperor Daigo and used for recording court rites and official events during the 10th century. "Kino Tsurayuki", the author of the Tosa Nikki (Tosa Diary) who was sent to Tosa as an official in 930, promoted paper making which in turn helped to promote the cultural development of the province.

At the end of the 16th century "Tosa Nanairogami", a set of seven sheets of paper in different colors, was made by Aki Sabrozaemoni and his colleagues. With the support of the "daimyo" (feudal lord) it developed during the Edo-era (1603-1867) into one of the main products of Tosa. Yoshii Genta (1826-1908) invented "Tengu joushi". The thinnest paper in the world, and "Mitsumata Kairyobanshi" (improved half-sized paper). He also contributed to the improvement of tools for paper making. It is he who is credited with laying the foundation for the modern paper industry.

Some years ago the Japanese government passed a law to promote, protect, and develop the traditional arts and crafts. Under this law Tosa Washi was designated as a traditional Japanese craft in 1976, and "Tengu joshi" and "Tosa seichoshi" were designated as cultural assets. At the same time some tool-makers for paper making were selected to preserve the craft.

There are still over 300 people engaged in making hand-made paper in Kochi. Securing the successors is a serious problem in traditional crafts. Unfortunately there are not many young people in Kochi who have been trained to succeed their elders in the tradition of Tosa Washi.