Spring 2005, Volume 11, No. 1

by Bruce Meade

I remember Hiromi saying that in March 2005, she would lead a group of 16 artists, conservators and other interested parties on a week long tour of handmade paper makers in Japan.

I remember being asked to help due to the size of the group and saying "absolutely!"

I remember landing at futuristic Kansai Airport, a vast, glass enclosed structure outside of Osaka.

I remember poached eggs, roasted burdick root, and radish shavings for breakfast.

I remember our tour bus crossing the Akashi Bridge, high above the indigo Inland Sea, as we headed for Shikoku Island.

I remember the Tosa Washi Museum, where the displays honor handmade paper in a way that illustrates its deep rooted importance to Japanese culture.

I remember being inspired by the work of artists from 75 nations in the 6th Kochi Triennial Exhibition of Prints showing on the museum's top floors.

I remember surprise and delight at being served a 7 course gourmet French dinner that night at our inn.

I remember soaking luxuriously in a traditional Japanese bath, hot steamy vapors soothing muscles achy from long miles on the bus.

I remember the deep bass "thump" of neri and kozo fiber being mixed together in a vat of water by a master paper maker.

I remember the incredible patience of the paper making teachers at the workshop in Kochi.

I remember the delight of our tour members as they made their own sheets of washi in the Japanese style.

I remember colorfully dyed tengucho drying humbly on the line beside the laundry of national living treasure, Mr. Hamada.

(1.) Sajio Hamada-National Living Treasure with his Shiba dog
I remember the grace of Mr. Hamada's movements as he created small dancing waves of water on his suketa to form the 100% kozo tengucho so prized by conservators around the world.

I remember the wry grin of Mr. Yamamoto, the last full time maker of Su's in Kochi, as he tried to instruct our group in the intricate process of weaving thin strips of bamboo and silk thread to create the all important sheet forming screen.

(2.) Suketa maker Mr. Yamamoto with Kathy Hyde

I remember red bean cakes and green tea served by Mrs. Sugino after we visited her husband's hosho making facility.

I remember she spoke no English, but communicated perfectly from her heart.

I remember a plum tree glowing white against the darkening sky.

I remember the privilege of visiting the Isamu Noguchi Museum, nestled in the shadow of the mountain side quarry beloved by the sculptor.

I remember a skyward bound spiral of stone touching my soul in the sand garden fronting Noguchi's studio.

I remember the incredible kindness of the shop girl in a small town who not only drew me a map, but offered me her bicycle so I could get to a clock shop to buy a battery for my watch- which had stopped, much to my assistant tour guide dismay.

I remember being deeply moved by a small Vulliard in Shikoku Islands' Ohara Museum, the artist finding the eternal in a small domestic scene portrayed in chalky golds and browns.

I remember roadside lunch stops: buying tickets from a menu machine (picture of food items above a button), handing the ticket to the cook, minutes later slurping delicious soba noodles in a sea weed broth.


(3.) Snowcapped mountain around Shikoku
I remember sugary snow flurries dusting black tiled pagoda roofs.

I remember the treasures of the Eishiro Abe Memorial Museum- Antique paper kimonos, Fusuma screen paintings by Munakata, and countless other folk art gems.

I remember a major shopping frenzy as our tour group bought sheet after sheet of beautiful colored mitsumata mingeishi made by Shinichiro Abe, grandson of national living treasure Eishiro Abe.

I remember sleeping soundly on my futon that night after a great meal of Japanese delicacies served on low slung tables as we sat around sharing stories and sake.

I remember the kind eyes of 9th generation paper maker, Mr. Ichibei Iwano, designated a national living treasure for his dazzling 100% kozo hosho, used for wood block printing in the traditional Japanese style.

I remember large size paper made by hand at the factory of Heizaburo Iwano, where teams of workers handle giant Suketas in a graceful dance that produces huge, lustrous sheets lusted after by artists all over the world.

(4.) Iwano papermill

(5.) Mr. Fukuda with his suminagashi demonstration
I remember the swirling, kaleidoscope beauty of the Suminigashi (marbled) paper created by Mr. Fukuda, a spry charmer in his 70's, who gave us lessons in his mysterious craft.

I remember the austere rock garden at Kyoto's Ryoanji temple, where I was transported to a deeply inward place of serenity.

I remember the Japanese woman who went 1/4 mile out of her way to show me where to catch the right bus in the labyrinth that is Kyoto Station.

I remember ringing the temple bell at the Paper Goddess shrine deep in the snow covered mountains of Echizen, birthplace of paper making in Japan.

(6.) Paper Goddess shrine

I remember thinking how I, along with every member of the 2005 washi tour, will be forever grateful to Hiromi for guiding us to the heart of Japan's 1500 year old hand made paper culture, from which each sheet is a gift given with humble generosity to all those who use and love paper.

By Bruce Meade (with apologies to Joe Brainard)

Photographs by
(1.), (2.) Margo McFarland
(3.), (4.) Hiromi Katayama
(5.), (6.) Chris Yuengling

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