2016 No.18


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Strolling JapanStrolling Japan


Home to Handmade Paper Recognized
as an Intangible Cultural Heritage

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Photos: Miyamura Masanori, Mino City Sightseeing Association, and Mino City Government Maps: Oguro Kenji

Mino streetscape with washi lanterns. For two days in October every year, the Mino-washi “Akari” Exhibition becomes a pageant for works like these made with Mino-washi.

The red color of the Mino-bashi Bridge is most impressive. It is the oldest suspension bridge built in the modern style in Japan.

Hon-minoshi, now registered on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, is made in the Mino district of Gifu Prefecture (which is located in the middle of Honshu, Japan’s main island). Mino is favored with the clear-running waters of the Nagara River, and paper has been made there continually ever since the earliest days of handmade paper in Japan, 1,300 years ago. Artisans use only kozo, and the paper is known for its beautiful white tones, and for two seemingly contradictory qualities, softness and strength. While some ateliers with centuries of heritage are disappearing, here in Mino, they are keeping old traditions alive by sharing workshops, as the next generation carries on the ancient craft of making paper.

Mino, home to one variety of Japanese traditional paper, lives up to its reputation with events associated with washi. The Mino Festival in spring is a time of spectacular scenes and excitement, when pieces of washi, dyed pink and shaped like cherry blossoms, are carried on hana mikoshi floats through the streets. The floats, some large, some small, number about 30 altogether, and with all their hana (blossoms), they give the impression of cherry trees in full bloom dancing energetically. In autumn, during the Mino-washi “Akari” Exhibition, highly unusual lanterns with washi shades create a fantastic scene, which is appreciated by many tourists every year. Light shining through the paper casts a magical glow over the street at night.

At night, the soft light coming through the paper gives enjoyment through beauty: in the day, shapes and textures provide further delight.

Scene during the Mino Festival in April. Hand-dyed paper flowers hang from hana mikoshi floats as they wend their way through the streets.