In a small rural town in the Kochi Prefecture of Japan lives Osamu Hamada and his brother Hironao. They have been making paper their whole lives, a tradition which was passed down from their grandfather Sajio Hamada.
Sajio Hamada was designated a National Living Treasure in 2001 for his Tosa Tengujo-shi Paper. Today Hironao continues his legacy of producing their grandfathers sheet of Tengujo Tosa, and Osamu produces Uso Mino Paper among other sheets.
The methods the two brothers employ to create their handmade papers have remained virtually unchanged since the 1880s. It was at this time when the Kochi prefecture’s quality Kozo fibers were recognized for their great properties in papermaking. Today the two brothers still hand prepare the Kozo fibers, which includes cooking, removing all impurities (called chiritori) and beating the fibers. This process can take hours to prepare a single batch. Once they are ready for use the fibers will be mixed in water with neri (a starchy substance derived from the root of a plant). The neri increases the viscosity of the water and keeps the fibers buoyant. The addition of the neri helps ensure an evenly distributed pulp.
Once the solution has been prepared, the paper making process can begin. The papermaker, Osamu Hamada, takes his suketa (or mould) which has a removable screen or su. The su is an essential part of the papermaking process, and there are only a few makers left in Japan. The screens are truly a labor of love, and are hand sewn using either finely prepared bamboo strips or kaya.
The suketa is suspended from the ceiling to help support the heavy load. It is then carefully dunked into the vat (called the suki bune) to ensure the liquid does not disrupt any coverage already on the screen. Once the desired amount of slurry has been scooped onto the suketa it is rocked back and forth. This allows for the liquid to fall and the fibers to settle on the screen. The number of times the screen is dipped, how many times it is rocked, and the intensity at which the process occurs all factor into the individual sheets and thicknesses.
Once the desired thickness has been obtained the papermaker will remove the screen from the suketa. Typically a thin nylon strip (see video above) will be applied to the bottom of the sheet. Since the sheets are quite thin, this strip helps to separate each sheet during the drying process. The screen is then flipped and carefully added to the stack of sheets. Typically the pile will be covered with a spare screen to help prevent the stack from drying.