As many of us know already, the majority of Japanese papers (washi) are made from Kozo bark. Back when the papermaking industry was still thriving, most if not all of the mills were using Japanese kozo as their main fibers. Nowadays, domestically grown kozo is difficult to find and obtain, so many papermakers are now using kozo imported from Thailand, Paraguay or other Asian countries. However, there is one of a few places in Japan that not only makes their own papers by hand, but cultivates their own kozo; this place is in Toyama Prefecture by the Miyamoto family. This summer, I participated in a 5-day program to learn and assist in working in the large kozo fields and maintaining the health of the kozo trees before their reaping season in the fall. The Miyamoto family collaborates with universities in Japan every summer with an internship program to accept current students into their home and work to teach them firsthand this important process in Japanese papermaking.
To be perfectly honest, I underestimated the amount of hard work that is put into caring for the kozo trees. I had imagined the work to be mostly cutting excess grass and weeds that grow around the kozo roots in the off seasons, and trim some branches. Starting with the 6AM radio exercises, we were in the fields for a total of 8 hours a day. Luckily it wasn't scorching heat like it usually is in the summer, which made the work a little more pleasant. The daily work in the fields consisted of three major tasks: cutting the grass/weeds with a sickle, nipping excess buds, and cutting excess branches with scissors. These three steps are continued during the summer in 3 rotations, for all 3 kozo fields that Miyamoto-san owns.
Since Yukyu-shi is produced using 100% homegrown kozo with no additives or chemicals, it is considered a high-quality conservation level paper in Japan as well as around the world. Compared to other Japanese conservation papers, I feel that Yukyu-shi is not as well known, but I hope Hiromi Paper can help in educating people on the significance of this beautiful paper. The hardest part of the work was dealing with the many insects of Gokayama (I will introduce them in a blog post to follow). Blood-sucking-bee-like insects would attack us all throughout the day, attracted to human odors and humidity. A crawling insect, what locals call "kanjyo", feed on kozo leaves which stops the plant's growth. These insects need to be exterminated one by one, to prevent the kozo plants from being too small. It is this daily laborious work that creates the highest quality kozo bark for washi. It is also surprising that by the end of the papermaking process, only 5-10% of the harvested Kozo makes it into the finished sheet.
Thank you to the Miyamoto family!