Washi paper: Japanese handcraft

March 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

In Fukui prefecture of Japan, where I have lived for almost two years now, there is a paper village called Echizen. In Echizen paper village, there are many artisans who make the various kinds of traditional Japanese paper called washi. I have gone there many times since I first came to Japan to make paper and also to learn how to use the paper to make other things, last class we learned how to make books!

Washi is a great product, as it uses fewer chemicals than other methods of paper making, but in order to prevent bacteria from decomposing the paper fibers, it is usually done with very cold water. Traditionally it was a way for farmers to make money during the winter time. The most common plant fiber used is Kozo. This plant grows very quickly and can be harvested annually. After being processed and some colour added, this is what the fiber looks like:

Then, to make the paper, the pulp is mixed with water and usually neri (a kind of binding agent from tororo plant). The mix is poured out onto a screen. To even out the paper, the screen is usually shaken. Then it is air or sun dried.

Above is a picture of two pieces of mine drying in the spring sunshine.

In Fukui Prefecture, the Echizen Paper Village is well known for it`s washi making. Many artisans live there and make paper year-round.

My friend, Rina, has been working there since 2000. She does washi classes and tries to promote washi paper making in Japan and internationally. This is her website: http://www.echizenwashi.jp/english/index.php. To the right is a picture of her with her sensei. He likes to visit her classes and make sure things are going well. Her site has information on classes in the area, and local artisans. I hope to participate in at least one more washi class before I leave this summer.

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“it all evens out in the end”

March 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

In my dreams last night, I was out walking when all of a sudden I yelled, “Nugget!”. She was running toward me. Nugget was my first dog and was part of our family for 16 years before she had to be put down. In the end she had very strong arthritis in her hind legs, so much so that she moved them mostly by shifting her hips back and forth. In her last days, when Dad went out to feed her in the morning he would find her lying in her own filth, unable to get up to relieve herself in the night. We, the children, fully grown, never saw this. But we knew what it meant.

It was hard to make the choice to let her go. We argued for days. In the end, it was my brother who took her death particularly hard. He went with Dad to the vet and helped carry Nugget in. He was there when she left. And he helped put her in the ground. The rest of us found the greatest change after it was done to be her old dog house, which had been moved to mark the place where she was burried on the property. The same dog house she had raised her six puppies in, back at the old house in Portercreek. The same dog house I had hidden in from my Grandmother when I was a little girl, scaring her enough to give me my first and only grounding. We had brought that dog house when we moved to the blue house by the bay. It sat in front of the new house, an emblem of the Nettleton family. Nugget knew, as we all did, that this meant we were home. The cat, Kato, roamed the lonely little house after Nugget died. Nugget`s name still written above the door, now less like a sign and more like the markings of a tombstone. Kato cried and we understood that he too was mourning the loss of a great friend.

In the dream, Nugget was running towards me at a gallop. It was just like she did when we blew her whistle for her to come home from visiting the neighbours. Dad kept the brass whistle on his keychain and later on the chicken key holder hanging in the kitchen. After blowing the whistle we would call her name, loud and long, over the tumbling hills and scraggily trees. Then, after a moment or two of quiet, we could hear her running through the bush trails toward the house. Next, we would see her yellow fur blurring through the green and then as she bounded up the hill, her ears flopping to the rhythm of her stride. That is how she was running.

She had the same markings. I could see so clearly her white and black muzzle, her yellow body and white stomach and paws. She ran with the same joy she always had when she knew her family was home. Then, suddenly, as if someone were speaking to me, I knew that this was not Nugget. That this was someone else`s dog which looked just like her. As I understood this, she ran past me, down a hill. I had reached out my hand, but didn`t touch her. Knowing or not, I still wanted this dog. I wanted her to stay with me.

After waking up, the day went on as usual. The same morning routine, the same bike ride, the same train at 7:45. I put on the same inside shoes and said the same morning greeting as every other morning. It all felt surreal, after the biggest earthquake in Japan`s history only miles away just days ago. And the tsunamis. There is a strange guilt of living an unchanged life when others have been changed forever. I even felt this when Nugget was put down. It felt wrong for life to go on, to change, to be different from how she had left it. I want her back. I want a world without tragedy, even though there is a voice that reminds me that that is a dream.

I just finished reading a book, “The Year of Magical Thinking”, written by a woman about the year after her husband died. In it, the woman remembers her husband saying, “it all evens out in the end”, when their daughter asks about tragedy`s lack of fairness. Does it really? It is uneven that some would lose everything in one day, while my greatest tragedy is the loss of a family pet at 17. It seems that some things are impossible to even out.

Yet, life goes on.

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