Kyomi and Kazuyuki Toumi—Noto Nigyo Handmade Paper

Mother and son team—the makers of Noto Nigyo Handmade Papers
Paper in Paradise
Forty or so years ago “real ale” made its appearance in British pubs.  It was the result of a reaction against the kind of rather bland beer that was being produced at the time by big breweries up and down the country.  Their beers were just simply uninteresting.  British beer has always been described by critics as “warm and flat”.  What this really means is that it is only slightly chilled and not carbonated.  Traditionally brewed real ale or what is sometimes called cask beer was kept in a pub cellar and in wooden barrels, just as it had been for hundreds of years.  Yes, it was slightly chilled and also flat but it was full of flavour.  In fact it had a deep rounded complex flavour.  It really tasted good and this is what sealed its success.  Nowadays, real ale is still holding its own and is available along side a staggering number of different beers, produced either in the UK or overseas.

Is it too fanciful to suggest that some comparisons can be drawn between real ale and handmade paper?  I don’t think so.  Reputably beer dates back more than three-thousand years, and paper making began some two-thousand years ago.  So both beer and paper have been made by hand much, much longer than they have been manufactured by a continuous automated process.  Handmade papers were the norm just as cask ales were before mass production took over and, let’s face it, in both cases something was lost when both became an industrially manufactured product.  Just as there was a resurgence in interest in more flavoursome beers in the UK all those years ago, so too has there been a upsurge of interest in handmade papers all over the world.

Not tracing paper but drawn on a fine handmade Japanese paper.  A detail of a scheme for a tea ceremony area in an apartment block.
Before I went to live in Japan I had never seen paper made and I had certainly never used any either.  My first real encounter with a handmade Japanese paper was when I was doing a design for a Japanese tea ceremony facility to be housed in an apartment block scheduled to be built in Kanazawa, south-west of Wajima.  I had been given some very thin handmade Japanese paper, on which I decided to draw up my plan, simply because it seemed to have a quality and finish completely in keeping with the project—a modern take on a traditional pursuit.

Charging a mould for pulp.  The culms of bamboo above provide a little spring
to make lifting the mould a little easier.
Despite being very thin and translucent, the paper I used was strong and had a fine texture.  Strength is one of Japanese handmade papers, well eh….strengths, which is acquired during its making.  Simply speaking, the fibres in the pulp used to make a piece of British handmade paper settle in a more of less random fashion.  Japanese handmade paper, on the other hand, is actively formed—the mould is charged with pulp and mostly rocked back and forth and only occasionally from side to side, so that the fibres line up and interlock giving the paper a grain and hence strength.

When I arrived at Kyomi Toumi’s workshop, that is exactly what her son, Kazuyuki, was doing—charging a mould with a pulp containing some adzuki bean husks.  Imbedding other natural fibres, dried flowers or leaves to add a decorative quality to the already fine papers is one of their specialities, although this mother and son team also produce a lot of plain papers for calligraphy.

The rhythmical charging of the mould help the fibres to interlock.
In a sense, these decorative papers are a memorial to Kyomi’s father-in-law, Shusaku Toumi, from whom she learned the craft after she married into the family while still a teenager.  There was no tradition of paper making in the district of Mii where Kyomi is based and where Shusaku began work back in 1949, initially using wild kozo—paper mulberry.  But that was only the beginning.  Shusaku later started imbedding his papers with such things as seaweed as well as other plant fibres to produce some unique and highly appealing papers.  One of these was a paper incorporating strips of cedar bark, a tradition inherited by Kyomi and Kazuyuki, who now also makes lampshades using some of the engaging papers they produce together.

The adzuki bean husks add to the character of the paper.
They even utilise waste material—those parts of harvested local Japanese cedar which the sawmills usually discard.  The Toumis, however, turn it into a robust handmade paper full of character with a resplendently warm tinge.  They also make use of waste timber from old houses, which have been demolished, by using it as a source of heat for a paper dryer.

The fibrous nature of the cedar bark here is obvious.
After a sheet of paper has been formed, it is allowed to stand in a post—a pile of sheets which are allowed to drip over night.  The next day they are pressed to squeeze out more moisture before each sheet is thoroughly dried.  In many places where handmade Japanese papers are produced sheets are brushed out onto a wooden board and stood outside to dry.

Where Kyomi has her workshop, however, that method is impossible because, in the narrow mountain valley where she works, wind blowing down the valley would soon release the finished paper from its board and ruin it.  Instead Kyomi uses a stainless steel dryer, which is warmed by burning waste timber.  The smoke rising from the small chimney at the end of the building only serves to add to the atmosphere of the location beside a river and surrounded by idyllic tree covered mountain scenery.  There is a sense that the paper is a product of its surroundings, made by dedicated people with care, skill and love.  Everything is just perfect.

When I returned to Wajima that evening and began to recall all that I had seen that day, I smiled with deep contentment as I remembered the welcoming warm-hearted reception Kyomi and Kazuyuki had given me, the beautiful paper, the unspoilt rural setting and the balmy early June weather that day.  “Where have you been today?”  I was asked.  “I’ve been to paradise”.

Just part of the process of forming sheets and drying follow below.

The bamboo screen on which a sheet is formed is lifted from the mould and....

....the wet sheet of newly formed paper is laid on a heap of sheets to drip before pressing to reduce the moisture.

A still very damp sheet is lifted on a flat strip of wood and....
....transfered to the warm face of the dryer.

The sheet is brushed out flat on the warm surface of the dryer.

When dry, the finished sheet is flung dramatically like a bed-sheet on to a pile of dry sheets.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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