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Paper / Makoto Okuno|

Makoto Okuno, Washi Artist
奥野誠 和紙作家 和歌山県田辺市

Paper / Makoto Okuno

Washi papermaking which began early in the 7th Century in many places throughout Japan almost disappeared in the early 20th century. In Europe, the Industrial Revolution led to mass production and the pursuit of uniformity, and paper was manufactured in factories by machines and chemicals. The techniques of washi making (wa means Japanese, shi means paper) using traditional manual labor were abandoned in order to survive in the paper industry.

Mr. Makoto Okuno and his wife, who were both art teachers, moved to Ryujin Village in Wakayama Prefecture more than 30 years ago and began their studies in order to revive the ancient tradition of Sanjigami paper, which used to be one of the major products of the village. Here they came to realize one important fact; that machine made paper can no longer be called washi in the strictest sense of the word.

  • 和の美|wanobi
  • 和の美|wanobi
  • 和の美|wanobi
  • 和の美|wanobi
  • "The Beginning" framed artwork / 「始まり」額 / 70cm x 80cm, made of kouzo (mulberry) bark

  • Tree; Holy Spirit" / 木‐精霊 / 80cmx50cm, made of washi paper and bamboo

  • "Room of Paper /「紙の部屋」 / Room 1.8mx2.7mx1.8m, made of washi paper

  • "Flourishing Plants" Tapestry / 「植物の繁栄」タペストリー / 80cm x 50cm, made of washi paper

Sanjigami is a traditional handmade paper made from kozo (paper mulberry) in the village area by the river, and all the tools for paper-making are also handmade. Mr. Okuno says, “Not a single kozo tree is the same.” Each branch has a distinctive feature and it will be reflected in the paper along with other factors such as the temperature and humidity of the day, or the maker’s feelings. Thus, the appearance of Sanjigami is a microcosm of all seasons in Ryujin Village with kozo fibers providing great texture and character.

What Mr. Okuno is making utilizing the strength of Sanjigami is “independent paper”.
Paper has originally been used as a traditional medium for woodblock printing; brush writing; or as material for screens and lamps, as if its existence could never be significant by itself. He tries to infuse life, through powerful artwork, back into Sanjigami, which is one of the many kinds of washi paper that have vanished.

Photography by Kohei Kawata