Washi - Japanese paper

Contributed by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Washi - Japanese paper

This stunning sheet of paper was collected by Sir Harry Parkes, British Ambassador to Japan, in 1870. It was one of about 1000 paper items collected as part of an investigation of Japanese papermaking. Increased literacy in Europe had led to a critical shortage of paper, and wood pulp paper was not yet in common use. The collection was shipped to Europe and divided between the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

This sheet is made from fibres of the inner bark of kozo, the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera). The thick paper has been treated with plant oils to give a leather-like appearance. Such papers were often used as wallpaper, although this eagle may be a one-off artwork. Although Japanese paper proved not to be the solution to Europe's paper woes, the 250 specimens at Kew represent a remarkable survival of an ancient craft.

Catalogue No. EBC 42934. Not on display for conservation reasons, but other paper objects collected by Sir Harry Parkes can be seen in the Plants+People exhibition at Kew Gardens.

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