What Is Washi Paper? a Complete Guide

If you haven’t heard of Washi paper and you are a creative sort, you are going to be smashing that buy button online after reading this article. But what is Washi paper?

Even though Washi paper is considered an iconic Japanese cultural element, the roots of Washi paper production can be traced back to China. Japan adopted the paper-making method, as it does with so many other things, and improved it.

Japan added a bunch of other things to the paper production process to increase the versatility, strength, and longevity of the paper.

The origins of the word “Washi” are from the Japanese words “Wa” which means Japanese and the word “Shi” which means paper.

Washi paper has a 1,300-year-old history and has the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage status.

Read on to see more of what Washi paper is and what it’s used for.

The Main Ingredients of Washi Paper

Washi paper is an ultra-thin paper which is flexible and durable. Due to its unique characteristics, it was used to preserve ancient texts and documents in Japan.

It’s made from three main ingredients — either alone or in unique combinations to increase the creative versatility of Washi paper.

Kozo (Mulberry)

It’s a deciduous tree and it grows abundantly in Japan. It has a texture closer to cloth than paper and doesn’t weaken when it’s treated with water, making it pretty water-resistant and durable.


It’s a bush from China and is in Japanese currency. It has a fine surface, and thus, is suitable for printing materials.


Again, this is a tree that’s found abundantly in Japan, and hard to find anywhere else. It has a smooth fine surface and is suitable for printing purposes.

Washi paper is so unique and versatile because you can add a bunch of different fibers, and other ingredients into it, to change the texture and feel of it.

For example, bamboo, rayon, abaca, wheat, rice, hemp, and other grains are some other common ingredients used.

The best time to make Washi paper is in the wintertime when the water freezes and is pure from any impurities. This ensures the freshest ingredients for the papermaking process.

What Is Washi Paper’s Manufacturing Process

You’ve already seen the ingredients that are necessary for the Japanese Washi paper production process.

Let’s now look at the general manufacturing process.


The ingredients for the Washi paper, particularly Kozo and Mitsumata, are harvested in the cold winter months of December and January.


The branches are then steamed to separate the different parts of the plant.


Once the bark is soft and ready to strip, it is carefully removed, dried, and ready to be processed.


The bark is then boiled and impurities are removed.


Then the pre-paper solution is beaten by hand into sheets.


The paper pulp is then spread onto a mat and the mat is shaken so that the paper fibers settle.


Once the desired thickness is achieved, then the excess water is poured off, and the Washi paper large sheets are left to dry overnight.

Final steps

The sheets are pressed to draw out any extra water. Once separated, they are brushed to smooth out any rough surfaces. Then they dry out in the sun again.

The final Washi papers are cut from these large dried-off sheets. From loose bark to beautiful textured smooth paper, the whole aesthetic appeal of the Washi paper lies partly in its age-old manufacturing process.

The Uses of Japanese Washi Paper

What is Washi paper used for? Well, in the past, it was used for everything modern paper is used for. But as a handmade product, it is a more expensive commodity now and as such is less common.

Printing and Writing

If you wish to print wedding invitations or greeting cards on some beautiful Washi paper, your guests would appreciate it. Also, lithography, letterpress, and embossing are other uses of Washi paper.


Some classical styles of Japanese Art, like the Nihonga painting, will only rely upon high-quality Washi paper. Some artists, like Tetsuya Nagata, use Washi paper to make their pressed Washi sculptures.


Bookbinding uses Washi paper, because of its durability, and water-resistant qualities. You can also use it to cover your antibacterial file folders.


The ancient Japanese art of Origami and Washi paper go hand in hand together, as the malleability of Washi paper helps keep the shape of the origami better.

Interior design

Recently, Washi paper is being used in interior design elements, such as lighting, indoor screens, blinds, and shutters, because of its translucent and earthy textures.

Again, due to the handmade quality of Washi paper, anything that’s manufactured with it will have a heftier price tag than normal commercially-produced paper. But that’s what lends Washi paper it’s timeless and ethereal beauty.

Where Are Washi Paper Suppliers Located

One is the Washi no Sato, which translates to the village of Washi paper in English. It is in the Chichibu district in north-west Saitama.

It’s a day trip from Tokyo and it’s the place to go if you wish to see traditional Washi paper manufactured.

Here you can roam through the streets, witness the paper produced in all its glories, and actually buy some traditional hand-made paper to take home with you.

Don’t forget to bring your camera along, as it’s located in the picturesque part of Japan. It’s especially pretty in the wintertime with snow on the ground and the mountains in the background.

Washi Paper Might Become Your New Favourite Japanese Product

If you can’t get enough of Japan and its products (ramen anyone?), then you will love Washi paper and it’s textured beauty.

What is Washi paper good for? Remember that this paper has a long lineage behind it, 1,300 years worth. This means you are in good hands when you are utilizing it for your printing or lighting needs.

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