A museum for deepening knowledge about paper’s culture
Invention of paper and its development have greatly benefited to the society in its lifestyle and cultivated the new frontier of cultural evolution in history. There’s a museum to make us feel like that. The “Paper Museum” in the Ohji district, Tokyo which established in 1998 is that. I encountered the fortune vising this museum lately.
This museum was describing the global history of paper with its socio-cultural impact, and evolution of Japan’s “Washi” paper and other interesting subjects, including current trends of recent paper industry in Japan, features of papers used in our daily use. Here’s the my impression of visit.
♣ Outline and significance of Museum Exhibition
The Museum is well noted for the rich collection of materials on the history of paper as well as exhibiting huge valuable paper products.
For example, aesthetic paper arts, historic paper-making machinery, raw materials and products, and documents on the present situation of modern paper industry are displayed. We can find there many exhibits showing the paper-making machines, the paper recycling system, and the variety type of paper products. There’s also a corner of “Classroom” to experiment the paper production process in practice. But the particular exhibits among them are on the history of paper development, especially the development of “Washi” paper (handmade paper in Japanese unique way).
The museum was originally called as “Papermaking Memorial Hall” by managed “Shoshi Co” (later Oji Paper Co., Ltd.) to exhibit historical materials on paper in the early Meiji era, and renovated to the current facility in 1998.
♣ Paper art collection at the entrance Exhibition hall
The first monument found in the hall is a portrait picture of “Prince Shotoku “ who was believed to introduce the “paper” first to Japan in the Buddhist Sutras. This is a highly artistic painting depicted on the ultra-large size hand-made paper by a famous painter for the memorial to the Museum.
The other memorial goods in the hall is a “Boro Cooker” that is a kettle like pot used for boiling tattered clothes as a raw material of in the beginning of Meiji period. This primitive device reminds us the days of dawn era of Japanese modern paper industry in the Meiji era.. The museum shop was also attractive place where we can see and buy various Origami (fold paper), paper crafts, paper dolls and other memorial goods.
♣ Corner of the modern paper industry and its products
In this corner, the paper manufacturing process, the current form of raw materials, the paper machines currently used, the paper forms in various purposes, the way of usageof paper, and other exhibits are introduced with various physical objects, models, panels, and the like.
In refer to the paper making ways, the raw materials of modern paper were “rag cloth” or “wheat straw” in the infant period. But the materials have gradually shifted to the wood pulp for its mass production, and also moved from the pulp of coniferous trees to broad leaf trees. The background was the rapidly increasing demand for papers as well as mechanization of paper making industry.
And the source of them have also changed from domestic woods to the imported ones as the times advancing. Furthermore it is said that about 60 percent of paper materials are said to be supplied by the recycled old paper now. This process is exhibited fully in the panels and the actual things including the indications of volume of production, the technology and machinery advancement, and their source materials. So we can easily figure out of the practical advancement of the modern paper making industry in Japan.
However, the most interesting exhibits were the dynamic forms of paper products. There are variety of printing papers, multiple newspapers, colorful wrapping paper, cardboard, special “Paper Cloth” for ritual costumes, aesthetic skin paper of “golden peel paper”, IC board papers embedded for electronic equipment, and many others exhibited. It is really amazing how widely the paper are used as essential products for our social settings.
♣ “The history of paper and the world of Japanese “Washi”
In the history corner, the illustrative panels displayed lots on the paper history from the description of pre-paper period, the story of “birth of paper”, and the explanations about expanding routes and process of paper, and others, including the explanation how were the diffusion of “hand-made” paper-making technique and how that led to forming the modern paper industry.
In particular, they emphasized process how the technology of Japan’s “Wash” paper was cultivated in history, and how they were developed in Japan in the unique way, in addition to make a comment on how the modern paper industry was established after the Meiji era by introducing Western modern paper-making technology.
In the meantime, the historical exhibit on the record media of pre-paper period is interesting. It clearly shows the examples of primitive but sophisticated clay boards, wood chips or stone materials, etc. before the invention of paper. It indicates the subsequent process how these primitive tools were first used as writing materials, and then progressed to the Parchment and Papyrus in the oriental world, and gradually advancing to the genuine paper which was born in China and spread to the world. It is also presented in the exhibition that the spread of these papers had given a great impact in the society, politics and culture since spreading in the form of Sutras, ordinances, paintings and letters in the history.
♣ Paper “Washi” development in Japan
It was believed that the “paper” was brought in Japan around in the 7th century of Ritsurye period. That time, the “paper making” was made under the law, but its technology was gradually expanded in the following years and became popular goods around the country. In the 10th century of Heian period, “Paper Workshop” (a kind of paper making technology center) was created, and manufacturing various decorative papers and picture scrolls began to be manufacture in a large scale.
However, these papers were quite expensive at that time, so they were used only among the upper aristocrats or limited celebrities. But it had shown the situation that the paper was gradually spreading in the society.
Around the eleventh century of the Kamakura and Momoyama period, the technology of “Washi” production was advanced significantly, and many type of papers became produced just in the response to the rising demand for letters, document and records among ruling classes and merchants.
In addition, unique Washi paper was started producing in various places in Japan, and made many specialty products such as Mino Washi paper and Yoshino Washi paper as their local brands.
Further, in the Edo period, it advanced to the era of generalization of paper culture. Many clans encouraged the paper production as exclusively selected marketing products. And in the responding to the increase of production, the usage of paper had been expanded to cover the wide range of social commodities, such as wood-engraved printing paper, inexpensive disposal paper, paper fold “Chiyo-gami”paper, wrapping paper, “Shoji” wall screen paper, as well as even for the umbrellas and rainwear too. Also, the demand of artistic paper materials was markedly rising, such as for the “Nishikie” printing paper, booklets of novel and drama, aesthetic paintings, and many others. So it can be imagine how the paper had become the essential goods to the daily life in that period.
These products are exhibited in the museum as in the form of real goods, imitations, samples, as well as explanation panels, photographs, pictures. And the exhibits there show the technology development in the manufacturing process too, particularly on the “Washi paper” and its variation of production methods.
♣ From traditional handmade Washi to modern paper making>
The exhibition of development process after Meiji era is also interesting. The foundation of the modern paper industry in Japan was laid by a businessman Shibusawa Eiichi with the establishment of “Shoshi Kaisha” in Oji, Tokyo, where the Museum is now situated. Shibusawa was said to promote the papermaking industry for the sake of advancement of education and profusion of technology and social knowledge, and believed the production of the massive supply of the easy-to-print Western paper will be contributes a lot for them in the process of the Meiji modernization.
For the first time, the available raw materials were so limited that the first paper production was done by “Cotton Boro” (tattered old clothes) as raw materials. But when it came to near the 1890s, the materials were gradually shifted to wood pulp and the materials themselves upgraded and production scale became larger in scale.
Since then, the paper industries were dramatically grown through these transformations. As a result, the paper industry could make a great leap forward along the steep rise in social demand for the paper. So in the 1930s the production scale has reached one million tons in parallel with advanced countries. The paper making companies and their factories were also multiplied and expanded ubiquitously.
On the other hand, the production of Washi paper was declined in the following years, and the major players of paper production have completely shifted to the western type of print papers. Since then the production volume has accordingly also expanded.
♣ Newly development of paper industries after the War
However, in the Second World War in 1940s, many industrial facilities had been totally damaged and devastated across the countries, and the papermaking industries had also got catastrophic blows. Even in the serious situation, the recovery of the paper industry has been quick. Because the social demand for paper was quite strong even after the War, and the needs of printing papers were increased along the way of the economic recovery and beginning of economic grows. In addition, the paper industry has exerted significant innovation both in equipment and technology in this process. So the production is expanded not only on printing paper but also on cardboard and other various processed paper products. In 1985, 20 million tons of paper could produce at this time, and the industry itself was advancing to the huge business sector both in terms of economic and social scales.
The change of raw composition of material, the reformation of pulp making method, adoption of newly developed machines, and advancement of variety papermaking technology were contributed there much.
♣ Reviving traditional Washi making as a artistic works
On the other hand, even in this trend of expansion of paper industry, Japan’s unique paper “Washi” production was drastically declined after the War. But, the “Washi” had been showing to revive and began to get a spotlight again as a retaining precious traditional industry. In addition, Washi is now beginning to be notified as as materials for artworks, traditional calligraphy, culture treasury and other fine arts.
In the museum, the movements of these twists and turns are persuasively displayed in the form of chronology, photographs, models, and other means in the museum.
♣ Memorial collection of the early time of papermaking industry
It is also impressive that the memorial monuments were quietly displayed in the special zone in the museum in commemorating the rising period of the paper industry in the Meiji era. They are the precious remains, such as a watermarked gate of “Puppy Fabric” paper company (the first modern paper company of Japan) in the early Meiji Period, a lock gate monument of Emperor Meiji, a signboard of several paper companies existed at the time, and so on.
♣ Remarks after visit
The Paper Museum of Oji was really impressive archive to give extensive knowledge about important rolls of paper in our society and its dynamic history of development. Since paper was invented in China before the BC, the paper had been spreading to the whole world in various forms, and finally transmitted to Japan around the 7th century. And after that period, Japan had exerted to develop various types of handmade papers “Washi” in its own initiatives using specific paper making technique.
And under this recognition, the museum explained much about the modern printing paper development in Japan, its technology advancement as well as evolvement of paper industry in history. So, the museum has taught us much about paper’s history as well as the way how they were utilized in our Japanese daily life and society.
Particularly, the interesting thing was that it showed us that the paper products was used not only for painting materials, but widely used for the daily necessities in our everyday life such as Shoji paper and sliding doors, lighting equipment, umbrellas and clothes. The museum has made me convinced these facts..
- Japan Paper Association HP: https://www.jpa.gr.jp/p-world/p_kind/index.html
- Paper Museum HP: http://www.papermuseum.jp/en/exhibition/
- 紙の博物館パンフレット (Paper Museum Pamphlet)
- 紙 – Wikipedia：https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%B4%99
- 紙の歴史・紙の基礎知識｜紙を選ぶ｜⽵尾 TAKEO ：http://www.takeo.co.jp/finder/paperhistory/
- 和紙 – Wikipedia： https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%92%8C%E7%B4%99
- 和紙の出来るまで： http://www.kamisukiya.com/html/dkrm07.htm
- 紙すきイノベーター吉井源太 （小畑登起夫）：http://www.tosawashi.or.jp/tosa/genta.html
- 唐紙（からかみ）： https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%94%90%E7%B4%99