Around the World in 80 Days: Day 19, The Paper Factory

Paper factory!  Paper factory!

Ok, now I have a story about Yasuko Takada.  I stumbled across her when I wandered into a craft store called On y va!  This is a clever play on words on Yasuko’s part.  In French, “on y va” means “let’s go!” and the sound of “on y” sounds like the first part of Onishi.  I was looking for some craft supplies and I thought that’s what was sold at On y va.  What’s actually there are handmade crafts from local crafters and in the back is a sewing workshop.  I peek in and Yasuko greets me and invites me into her cute store.  I marvel at all of the things (some that may have a future in my home) and enjoy Yasuko’s cheery demeanor and warm smile.  She speaks English so we are able to chat freely and I tell her about my plans for my art here at the residency.  Quickly we land on the subject of the paper factory and I am intrigued.  She offered me some coffee but I didn’t have much time to chat so I promised to return in a couple of days.

(Spoiler alert: I return in a couple of days for a good long sit-down chat.)  We talked a lot about Onishi and how we both love it and would like to see it saved.  The town is old and young people don’t tend to stay here so it is, in a sense, dying.  Together we dreamed big and brainstormed ideas about revitalization.  She is very active in the crafting community and organizes craft fairs and workshops regularly.  You can see how big these events get in some of the images on her webpage.  I mention that I’d like to go to the paper factory (a.k.a. washi factory) and she offers to drive me.  This is a 50 minute drive one way.  I am worried that this is too much of a favor but she bubbles forth about how she loves the place and how we can have lunch together and then we can go to a sweet shop there.  I hardly know her yet she speaks my language (the language of food and sweets) so well.  A date and time is set and we are both super excited!

On Monday she picks me up at 9 and we drive on the most treacherous, windy road I think I’ve ever seen.  Onishi is tucked into a bunch of mountains, and so is the next town, and so is the next town… and the next town.  She asked if I would be sick and normally the answer is heck yes.  I told her that I was so excited that I thought I would be fine, and I was.

I think what Yasuko actually enjoyed the most was watching my head explode multiple times.  I am very expressive when I’m excited about something and I was all smiles.  My eyes get big and I point at things and I say things like, “Oh my gosh!  Oh my gosh!” and “LOOK AT THIS!” As my excitement escalates I might bend back a little so I am angled up at the heavens, widen my stance, open up my arms and tighten my fingers and hands and say more things, “Why doesn’t this happen every day?!” and “Wowwwwwww!” and “Sugoi!”  Sugoi is a word that I’ve heard my new friend use over and over and I finally asked what it meant – Awesome!  Eventually I collapse to the floor from fatigue, hold my knees to my chest and cry, exclaiming how beautiful everything is… and that’s just after looking at the first stack of paper in the shop.  Then it’s time to look at the next stack of paper!  Maintaining this level of happiness is exhausting.

When I walk into the factory, I first see all of these unusual paper orbs with writing on them.

These are fireworks!  The cylinders to the left are the cannons through which they are fired!  These explode!  Like my head!  In Higashichichibu, the small town of 3000 in which the paper factory resides, there are also a couple of fireworks factories.

A paper crane flies in the rafters at the entrance of the factory.

The shop to the right.  This is where people can come to make paper with flowers and leaves in it.

Very important man in the middle of the shop.  A Washi Master who has only been making paper for you know, SEVENTY YEARS.  Yes… I bought some paper from this place.  It meets my qualifications.

Shop to the left.  This is the entrance to the shop where the first couple of paper processes take place.

This was my paper man, my spiritual guide if you will, through the paper making process.  As I’ve come to expect, he was a really nice person.  These are kozo fibers.  It’s a tree much like a mulberry tree.  They have already been steamed and he is circulating them through the water.  They soak for awhile.  I got a small handful of these to put into my fans!

Then there was this guy.  He was actually making the paper.  Of course there are a few processes in between what you saw and the previous photo and this, but this was my path.  Oh, did I mention that this was a handmade paper factory?!  (Japanese text only.  Click around.  It’ll be fun!)

There is an intricate bamboo system that supports the majority of the weight of the tray and paper pulp as he works.

…and watch him make a piece of paper.  It’s cool.  There are no exploding cars or dirty love triangles… just meditative, relaxing paper making.  Breathe in, breathe out, and watch.

Here’s the stack of that juicy paper.

Paper drying in the back.

…and the stack of finished paper.

I decide that I am going to sit down and make paper here.  I am handed a small basket and encouraged to walk the grounds of the washi complex and pick flowers and leaves to put into my paper.

A couple enjoying the day.  There was an art show in the building behind them.

As we walk around looking for flowers and leaves to pick, we find the old building where they used to make paper a zillion years ago.

A display inside on tatami mats.

Above in the rafters is storage and a place where they used to keep silk worms.

A closeup of the outside of the building with the crazy traditional thatched roof.

The path back to the workshop.

Back in the workshop, my guide helps me collect the paper pulp in the tray.  Yasuko kindly offered to be my photographer for a few shots.

Annnnnnnnd this is end of the post.  Done!  What a shame it’s over.  You didn’t get to see what I made.  Oh well.  Another time maybe.  So Mom, you probably have that Scottish TV show waiting for you anyway.  You should just go watch that.  This post is definitely over.  Thanks for reading!





Mothers should definitely find something else to do.  If you watch your TV show you’ll probably see that Scottish guy’s butt.  You should go ahead and do that.





Definitely NO MOTHERS allowed after this point.





Whew.  Now that there are definitely no Mothers around I can show you her Christmas presents.

Placing petals on the paper.

Look at my giant grin.  You can see my cheeks puffed.  Good shot Yasuko!

Finished petal placement.

The washi has to dry so Yasuko gave them the address to her shop to mail the end results.

Afterwards, we went to a restaurant on the grounds.  We both had this shrimp tempura noodle bowl.  It was super good.

We left the washi factory and went to the SWEET SHOP OMG OMG.  We looked through their menu of seasonal sweets and everything they make there is practically too beautiful to eat.  We saw pictures of the young owner of the shop (from several generations) who won awards for his beautiful sweet.  Yasuko was there with laser focus.  This was not her first rodeo.  She had actually brought a small foam cooler and again I was intrigued!  There were lots of things at the counter but she went straight for a small freezer at the front.  Inside were several colors of what I’ve always just called “mochi” but it turns out it’s actually called daifuku.  Still sweet rice dough wrapped around sweet bean paste.  How the Japanese ever arrived at beans and rice as a sweet I’ll never know, but I will eat the crap out of it anyway!  (Japanese readers – this is an expression of great potency but it has nothing to do with actual crap.  It means, “I am going to eat that like there’s no tomorrow!”) Yasuko filled up her cooler with these so I followed suit.  Holy freaking shit ankles these are the best daifuku I’ve ever had.  I ceremoniously pull one out of the freezer every night and let it thaw for a few minutes and share it with my friend Raquel.  I don’t want to go into too much detail because I’m going to write about sweets in a future post.

Lastly was the windy ride home.  It was closing on 3 PM and I truly was exhausted.  I wasn’t kidding when I said being so happy and excited is tiring!  The windy road did have an effect on me but I focused as much as I could on our conversation.  I know this is exhausting for Yasuko too because the sentence structure for Japanese is the opposite of English.  Her brain is working overtime to communicate with me!  We got home and I gave her a big hug.  I’ll remember this day always.  Slinked inside the house and took a 3.5 hour nap!  That was the sign of a GREAT day.  Thank you Yasuko!

The paper factory’s kawaii mascot!  (“Kawaii” is Japanese for “cute.”)



Oh, and Mom, you are in SO much trouble.

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Bomb diggity Author and Artist.

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