Monday, June 9, 2008

Where do I begin...

Today has been a really special day. This evening started off with a spontaneous dinner at Fresh on Bloor with the lovely Miss A (a former co-worker that I still keep in touch with). We had a nice time catching up over some delicious food & bevvies. (I had Simple on soba noodles with tempeh and a soy mocha mint espresso shake) From there, the real excitement began (no disrespect to Miss A, of course!).

I attended the Japanese Papermaking Demonstration at the Japanese Foundation which was part of the World Washi Summit. Three guest Japanese papermakers - Shinji Hayashi from Kurotani, Hiroshi Tamura from Kochi and Hiroaki Imai from Niigata - demonstrated their papermaking techniques and skills while Paul Denhoed, a Canadian artist and Japanese papermaking researcher, provided a play-by-play commentary. The demonstration also included a brief slide presentation about the process and ended with a Q&A with the audience.

Traditionally, women were the master papermakers as the process would begin in the winter while the men went out to do itinerant work. As the demand for papermaking grew - and consequently, the size (and weight) of the equipment - the roles began to shift between the sexes. The men would then do the actual papermaking while the women did the preparatory work.

It was an absolutely fascinating presentation. I learned so much about how washi paper is made from how the plant is processed, which part of it is used (and how this differs from Western papermaking), how it is cooked, 'beaten', processed, stored and dried. I was surprised to hear that some of the paper is stored in snow (yes, SNOW!) as it acts as a very effective and natural way to insulate and refrigerate the paper before it can be properly dried.

The demonstration was amazing. Each papermaker had their own technique which is exclusive to the region they're from. They made it look so easy! (Later, we would find out from an audience member that it wasn't as simple as it looked as he fumbled with the mould only to produce a white clumpy mess!) The papermakers shared the different paths they took to becoming papermakers (one was born into it) and also, the training available in Japan. Sadly, papermaking has become a dying tradition in Japan. Where there was once 1000 papermakers, there are now less than 350 in Japan.

Nancy Jacobi is the brainchild behind the World Washi Summit. She first introduced Toronto to this beautiful and highly versatile paper via her store on Queen Street called, The Japanese Paper Place (now called, The Paper Place - I know it well). She encouraged the audience to support the washi industry by purchasing these lovely papers and provided the specific names produced by the guest papermakers.

Hiroshi Tamura gave such a heartfelt thank you, as a closing. He expressed his gratitude for being invited to the Summit to speak about his craft considering what he does has now reached a plateau in Japan and is slowly going by the wayside. He was surprised to learn how washi paper was so adored here in Canada and felt honored to be part of the summit. He spoke on behalf of all Japanese papermakers and felt very proud to be able to represent those not present. It brought tears to my eyes that he was so grateful and also, so passionate about his craft.

As I left the presentation, I had so many wonderful feelings & emotions running through me - inspiration, gratitude, respect, happiness - and I just wanted to run home and share them with my little family. It was a great feeling and a great evening. I cannot wait to report on the next event I attend during the World Washi Summit!

[As if it wasn't already an amazing day, I had a pile of paper goodness that was waiting for me when I got home! Thanks so much to my dear, dear penpal in KC for the box of wonderful goodies, to Joe for his gorgeous card (it freaked me out a bit, actually, since I was just admiring the very same print this afternoon on the web!!!) and to a new correspondent from Germany for the thoughtful letter!]

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