As you may know, “washi tape” is now a popular craft item used to decorate small to large things without painstaking work, but what is “washi?” It is traditional Japanese paper that is made of specific plants that have much longer fiber compare to pulp. It boasts unique texture and strength that you don’t find in mass-manufactured paper. While papermaking has been a traditional industry in many parts of Japan for more than a thousand years, it’s been declining over the last several decades as it became difficult to secure skilled/committed workers, and to compete in a global paper market in which price is almost everything. Whereas the plants used to make fiber (kozo or mitsumata among others) were relatively easy to grow, making paper out of them was labor and skill intensive.
But new waves of product development are underway to re-discover and re-imagine washi that fit modern markets and the needs of consumers today. In case of washi tape, it married washi’s multi-faceted quality as an industrial material that is thin (almost opaque), sturdy, sticky enough but peels off easily with aesthetic charms to make lovely arts & craft materials that became popular among young women and children throughout the world.
One of the major demands for paper in Japan used be shoji screen doors, and about half of shoji paper was made in the Yamanashi area that was blessed with clean water – an indispensable for paper making – from the Fuji River. However, as Japanese started abandoning traditional Japanese house to shift to Western-style, the demand for shoji paper declined. As one of the strategies to adapt to changing markets, the developed a new product named “naoron.” Originally conceived as industrial “unbreakable” shoji paper, it used the blends of pulp, polyolefin or recycled polyester fibers as materials, but made paper using traditional papermaking process. The end result was strong, water-proof paper that has tensile, soft texture. It could also be stitched or molded. In order to re-imagine “naoron” so that in could extend its potential outside shoji paper, they collaborated with renowned product designer Naoto Fukasawa. When he saw “naoron,” he liked the way it got wrinkles when it was shrieked.
Fukasawa designed many items using “naoron” under the brand name “SIWA” – a term coined by flipping “shi” and “wa” of “washi,” but it also means wrinkles.