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Trip to Ryozo Paper, Echizen

My trip to Echizen almost ended in paper tragedy – at first, we were unable to get into a papermaking studio.

When we arrived at Papyrus House, we were given a map that listed a number of studios. When I asked which studio they recommended for a visit, we were told that the studios were closed because everyone was working.

We were baffled. Why list studios on a map if they weren’t open to the public? Then the realization sunk in – I traveled to Japan and wouldn’t be able to visit any studios. I was not happy.

The hubby and I called up our host and asked for help. He hopped in his car and zipped on over. He looked at the map and whipped out his phone. Within five minutes, we were on our bikes heading towards the Ryozo Paper studio.

We arrived at a nondescript building in what looked like a residential neighborhood.

Ryozo papermaking facility

I wasn’t sure that we were in the right place until I saw a small sign with a piece of handmade paper on it. Confirmed.

Sign on front of the Ryozo papermaking facility

We entered the studio and were warmly greeted by the studio’s owner, Ryozo Yanase. The studio was not at all like I was expecting – it was quite an operation.

On the sides of the room, there were three women at separate vats pulling sheets of paper. The screens were attached to ropes that hung from the ceiling, which I assume helps to relieve some of the weight when pulling sheets.

Woman creating sheet of handmade paper in Japan at Ryozo paper

Two of the women created solid base sheets. After a sheet had been formed, the screen was carried over to a slow-moving conveyor belt and the sheet was transferred to it.

Woman transferring sheet of handmade paper to a conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

The third woman made paper on what looked like a silk screen with a floral pattern. She’d scoop up pulp with the screen and the pulp would settle wherever the pattern was located. Where the screen was solid, the watery pulp would just wash off the screen. The result was more like small, individual pieces of paper than a sheet – the flowers weren’t connected in any way.

The artisan laid her work on top of each base sheet that traveled down the conveyor belt.

Woman transferring sheet of handmade paper to a conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

Handmade sheet of paper on conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

At the end of the conveyor belt, the sheet would get pulled under a ginormous metal roller. The water would get squeezed out of the sheet and it would get super flat.

Handmade sheet of paper on conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

The sheet would stick to the roller when it came out the other side and it was carried up to man on a platform near the top of the roller. He’d peel off the sheets and add them to an ever-growing pile.

Man pulling sheet of paper off giant metal roller at Ryozo paper

Wait, why am I explaining all of this in words when I can just show you the video I took? Warning: This is hypnotizing.

After breaking from the spell of watching paper being made, I took some time to look around the studio. Sheets of paper hung from the ceiling and in front of windows. It was lovely.

Sheet of handmade paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging in front of a window at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging in front of a window at Ryozo paper

The wood supports (keta) for the screens (su) were also hung from the ceiling. The keta is a double-hinged frame made of Japanese cypress that holds the screen when a sheet is pulled.

Keta (part of the sugeta) hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Thank goodness for technology! We were able to communicate with the artist by using Google Translate on our phone. He used his iPad to do the same. I usually feel like technology creates distance between people, but in this case, it definitely brought us together.

He said that he’d been making paper for 25 years and that they produce 800 sheets of paper each day. There were buckets of pulp everywhere.

Plastic buckets full of red paper pulp

Plastic buckets full of purple and mixed paper pulp

There were buckets of wet hibiscus root (neri), a gooey substance that’s added to pulp to aid with fiber dispersion. It also helps slow down water drainage during the sheet forming process, which gives the maker more time to form an even sheet.

Plastic bucket with hibiscus root

At the end of our visit, we gave Yanase a gift of maple candy and thanked him for his hospitality. He returned the gesture by giving me a lovely sheet of lace paper – totally unexpected. The paper is so dreamy

The pattern is called uzumaki, which is the Japanese word for spiral. It measures 23.875″ x 35.75″ (grain short).

Handmade lace paper by Ryozo paper

Handmade lace paper by Ryozo paper

Best.visit.ever.

If you’re interested in checking out the facility for yourself, here are the details:

  • Address: 10-1 Otaki cho, Echizen-shi, Fukui Prefecture (Google Map)
  • Phone: 0778-42-1155 (I highly recommend that you call them in advance. Don’t wing it like I did.)
  • Public transportation: Take a train to JR Takefu Station. After exiting the train, you’ll see the bus stop (sheltered area). Take the Fuku-Tetsu bus for the Nanetsu line (heading towards Akasaka) – it’s about a 20 minute ride. Get off at the Washi-no-Sato stop. Assuming that you’re now at Papyrus House, you’ve got a 10 minute walk to get to Ryozo Paper. Here’s a Google Map that can help get you there.

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 44 (although I did get a sheet of paper at Ryozo, I didn’t buy it so it doesn’t count)

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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