Mino in Gifu Prefecture is renowned for its production of washi, a traditional handicraft paper, made from pulp of the kozo bush. The area has produced washi since the 8th century, but Mino became a center of production under the influence of local feudal lords, and, later, became nationally famous following the expansion of trade networks in the Edo. The tradition is kept alive in the city today by museums and paper shops and the local artisans and craftspeople that still work with the local washi.
Kami no Shigoto is one of the popular destinations for pilgrims to this city of paper. The emphasis is on the traditional handicrafts that were made from the local washi: chochin lanterns, uchiwa fans, as well as stationery, and kami, the origami paper that gives the shop its name. Kami no Shigoto is located along Mino’s udatsu -lined old street, where merchant families once vied for local acclaim through the building of fire walls (udatsu). There is no finer setting for this tidy shop that collects the finest local washi products. After visiting the shop, make sure to stroll through the historic area, which has a number of other businesses selling washi, lanterns, fans and the traditional local parasol, the Gifu uchiwa.
The Mino Washi House, a little away from Kami no Shigoto and the udatsu-lined historical area, is the former home of a local paper baron. The house has been converted to a museum, where the actual equipment used to make paper is preserved as it would have looked a century before. Not far from the house, along the Itadori and Nagara Rivers, fortunes were made in the manufacture of various grades of washi and the many items made from the paper. After visiting the house, once you hold in your hands a piece of delicate origami or an intricate paper lantern, it’s impossible not to think of the complicated and difficult process that is involved in the creation of washi.
The Mino Washi Museum, Mino Washi no Satokaikan, not far from the Mino Washi House preserves the history and methods of washi production in the area, and showcases new work by artists working with the traditional paper. This museum covers every aspect of the manufacture and artistry of washi.
At the museum, washi is still made with traditional methods: pulp is smashed, washed and pressed on a screen. The cold, clean water and forested hills of the nearby countryside allowed for the production of washi to flourish in Mino. Before the age of plastics, washi was the go-to material for making countless daily objects. It’s fascinating to see the backbreaking labor that goes into the process, alongside the delicate and whimsical washi creations exhibited at the museum.
The museum occupies a spacious building in Warabi town, and the first floor includes a gift shop that collects objects from local producers. There is no reason to make only one stop on a Mino paper pilgrimage, but if time is tight, make sure to visit Mino Washi Museum.