Rogier Uitenboogaart, a Dutchman from the Hague, has been making washi (Japanese paper) for over 30 years.
Uitenboogaart lives deep inside the forests of Yusuhara, near the Shimanto River, in Kochi Prefecture. There, he grows his own plants, and makes washi by using them and spring water taken from the river.
He grows five different types ofkozo(paper mulberry) andmitsumata(oriental paper bush) — all without pesticides or fertilizer — to make washi.
He runs a guesthouse where visitor rooms are surrounded by washi-covered walls and fusuma(sliding doors covered with paper) and guests can experience the process of traditional paper-making at his studio.
"Japanese washi is very special. In Europe, paper is used only for artwork and for printing purposes. It is only in Japan that paper is used in everyday life — such as in architecture and the interior, for example, shoji. The Japanese have lived with washi for hundreds of years,” he added.
He said he wanted to know more about washi, but could not get hold of any details in the Netherlands, except for a book written by Dard Hunter on the history of paper from all over the world.
“I got the information from the book that best quality paper is made in Japan. So I decided to just come to Japan,” he said, adding that he may not have chosen to come to Japan if it had been today, when he can easily find out a wealth of information via the Internet.
After arriving here in 1980, Uitenboogaart traveled extensively around the country, visiting more than 10 paper production areas in various parts of the country, including Okinawa, Fukui and Kochi.
During his trip, he met a Japanese woman who was later to become his wife. They decided to settle down in Kochi — the part of Japan where plants used to make traditional paper are grown.
Kochi has a history of washi-making that dates back 1,000 years or more, and the prefecture is well known for the wide variety and high quality of washi produced there.
Fukui was another place that had an abundance of washi-making plants, but he said he chose Kochi mainly because of its warm climate.
For the first six years he lived in Kochi, his family — including two children — led a self-sufficient lifestyle by growing vegetables for their own consumption, and Uitenboogaart slowly learned how to make washi.
It took a few years for the plants to grow big enough to harvest, so during that time, he learned about washi-making.
Uitenboogaart built a washi-making studio in 1992, and he now produces Tosa (Kochi) washi using traditional techniques, plus cotton paper using the traditional method of his home country, the Netherlands, and original washi combining ingredients of both traditional washi and cotton paper. “By rediscovering the paper-making tradition of the Netherlands, I realized the beauty of the washi-making even more,” he said.
ABOUT THE FIBRES
Kozo - a member of the mulberry family. This is the most widely used fibre used in Japanese papermaking. Its fibres are longer and stronger than western fibres such as cotton.
MItusmata - Along with kozo and gampi, mitsumata is used for making traditional Japanese paper. Among other applications, mitsumata is used for banknotes as the paper is very durable