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Skin deep: Japan's 'washi' paper torn by modern life

By Natsuko Fukue

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© 2019 AFP

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Now, due to the Westernisation of Japan, the washi market is shrinking again, Chinzei said. "We have no tatami rooms and almost no space to display a hanging scroll in the current lifestyle. Washi used for those things are now gone."

I'm sorry but those points are down to the greed of Japanese property developers trying to squeeze as many units as possible into a plot. Also, families with young children (who are generally the people buying the units) have realised that washi screens in a home are completely impractical.

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We have two tatami rooms and washi on doors and screens. It doesn't matter how careful we are, it's not as practical and durable as a solid surface, we have a door and screen that currently need renewing. Poor insulation too. We have a floor lamp that uses washi and it gives a lovely, soft light.

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For 25 years we have lived in very large traditional houses with rooms all with shoji screens on the windows and paper fusuma sliding doors.

The fumsuma were covered with expensive silk and the shoji had expensive washi paper. The cooling effect during the hot summer days is very nice.

But shoji are so easily damaged. We have no children but my wife has longer finger nails which scratches around the fumsumas. Sometimes makes a hole in the washi.

Last year we moved home into out first western style house. Still have three rooms with tatami mats, two I covered with puzzle mats. The third is still open. Two are the very traditional rooms with shoji and fusuma.

The shoji I replace every year and the fusuma about five years.

There are shoji with plastic covering which last longer. Also silk paper made from recycled cocoons is thicker, available from Nagano. I also paint on it.

Living in a traditional Japanese is rewarding but requires much more work. We no longer have the traditional wall covering instead high grade wallpapers. Much less dust given off. The insulation is much better too.

Typing this on my iPad while sitting in my mini onsen and drinking a cold beer. Dylan playing on the bluetooth speaker above my head. Out of the window I can see large white herons on newly planted rice field with golden sun sinking behind the mountain.

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