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Mino Washi - Paper Art in Japan

The wooden-fronted buildings of Mino, so modest in their simple beauty, hide glowing treasures inside just waiting to be discovered. I had come away for the weekend with Yoko and her daughter En, new friends in Japan, for two days to see how the artists here are using handmade paper, to experience my first Onsen (hot springs) bath, and to stay in a traditional Japanese Inn. Lucky me.

This town is famous for handmade Washi paper due in part to the purity of the water from the river that runs nearby. Consequently it draws artists who have taken that material and created beautiful sculptural lamps and lanterns of every shape and design possible. As a designer-maker working with light and paper, it was a treat to come and explore.

We started in the Mino Washi 'Akari' Art Gallery - a beautiful vaulted timber-roofed exhibition space filled with the soft glow of these ethereal artworks.

A large image in the gallery of a lighting exhibition held outside in the streets of Mino - looks so magical...

An incredible amount of creativity in the myriad of different ways these artists are capturing light. I left feeling totally inspired and head buzzing with ideas.

After a friendly chat downstairs and gifts of origami birds and tiny parasols we left, armed with our map of the old part of town to see what else we could find.

After some advice to find the Mino Art 'Sakura' (Cherry blossom) event at Yoshida Kobo we ducked in and were greeted with the usual warm Japanese hospitality and welcome. We sat down to join in with the day's free workshop - and made these teeny tiny origami flower pegs.

There was also work on display from international artists who have come here to do residencies. To learn in depth about making paper, live locally and to make new work inspired by the experience. Needless to say - I would love to do this one day!

The traditional old buildings had beautiful details everywhere - In Yoshida Kobo house.

Next door was a 300-year old house that had been beautifully preserved. The minimal design of the shoji-screen / tatami-floor rooms is so calming to walk through.

Out in the peaceful garden we found this - you fill the bamboo ladle with water and drip onto the stones. The droplets fall into a deep hidden chamber and the sound is echoed. It honestly sounds like a stringed instrument being plucked. Beautiful. Imagine sitting next to it in the rain...

En with her origami parasol.

Next we stopped at this gorgeous paper goods shop. It was tempting to buy a lot of lovely things. But I managed to escape with just a couple of postcard prints.

This shop had loads more washi treasures, including delicate lace-like cut-outs to decorate your window.

A store specialising in a type of delicious sweet crunchy bean snack (sorry don't know the name!) in every flavour and colour.

We then stumbled across the shop and workshop of Haba Hideki - a traditional lantern maker, who showed us how she coats the frames with panels of handmade washi to make these lampshades.

The handmade supports that the spiral internal frame is wound onto cleverly slots together, then can be taken apart and removed once the outer layers are dry.

Haba then told us we must go and visit her father who was working nearby. Kano Hideka has been making traditional Japanese lanterns over a long career, from the handmade frames to the designs painted on at the end.

We followed directions and found him at work. We were so lucky to be given a demonstration and watched every step of the process.

Paper-covered wire gets wound into the grooves on this handmade wooden structure. A different one made for every shape and size of lantern.

Bamboo is added top and bottom and the frame is strung together for strength.

Once the frame is finished, panels of paper are cut and the design traced on before glueing.

When pasting on the paper, Kano expertly brushes it down between the wires just the right amount to allow for the shape expanding when taken off the supports.

Lanterns like this would take a day to make - but are built to last 15 years. He gave us a scrap of paper to try to rip and it was incredibly strong.

We didn't have time to see that one finished but here are some he made earlier....

As dusk appeared we left Mino to find the Onsen and give our bodies a well-deserved soak in the natural thermal waters. An amazing place with many different pools to try, and natural stone saunas.

After a meal of sushimi and rice (I finally tried raw octopus among many other uncooked sea foods and found it fresh and delicious) we drove to find our beds for the night - at the very homely 'Warabi Guest House'

After chatting to our host and drinking green tea by the roaring fire in the kitchen we rolled out our futons and duvets on the woven tatami mat floor in our room and bedded down for the night. I awoke to see the morning sunshine on the paper shoji screen doors. Loved the whole experience of staying here.

Leaving the next morning we could see the mountains all around that we hadn't seen in the dark the night before. We were heading out further into the hills to the home of Ms. Homa, a potter friend of Yoko's to have a go at making ceramics.

The large sun-filled studio where we sat and got stuck into our lumps of clay.

My slightly wobbly matcha tea bowl.

Our cups and bowls will be glazed and fired later...

After finishing our pieces we were invited upstairs for matcha tea and sweets. Every surface was filled with handmade examples of Ms. Homa and her husband's work.

Outside we were taken to see this sweet little building which the owners built to practise and teach the ancient art of traditional Japanese tea ceremony. All conducted using their own handmade ceramics of course.

Next stop was a visit to an art and craft centre nearby where we wandered in and found we could have a go at making our own paper. After all the experiences the day before it was great to have a go ourselves.

The pulp is made from kozo (mulberry) bark which is soaked and mixed with fermented hibiscous root which adds a gloopy consistency.

We moved the pulp over our frames until all the water was gone and we had an even surface.

Mulberry being soaked

Choosing decorative pieces to add.

After adding droplets of dye, leaves, and gold and silver specks, our pieces were ready to be dried.

We drove back home to Okazaki feeling so creatively nourished and satisfied. What an incredible weekend discovering these beautiful corners of Gifu.

Thanks to Yoko and En for being the perfect travelling companions and to Yoko for patiently translating for me wherever we went!

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