Washi: The Art of Japanese Paper

Washi: The Art of Japanese Paper

12 March – 20 April 2013

An exhibition of Japanese handmade paper from the 19th century Parkes Collection (Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew) and from the Washi: The Soul of Japanese Collection of contemporary washi.

Washi, or handmade Japanese paper, has long held a central role in the domestic, spiritual and cultural life of Japan. Its aesthetic of simplicity, purity and tranquillity mirrors a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture itself. At the same time, the striking diversity of washi-ranging from a white sheet of kozo so thin that you can read through it, to a three-layer confection including gold powder, mica and rayon fibres-highlights the creativity, skill and rigour that underpins this 1500-year-old Japanese craft.

This exhibition celebrates both the rich history of washi and the stunning variety that exists within the washi universe. Examples from two collections are featured here: the portion of the nineteenth century Parkes Collection held in the Economic Botany Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the twenty-first century Washi: The Soul of Japan collection.

The Parkes Collection was assembled by British officials in Japan in 1869 and 1870 at the request of the Prime Minister William Gladstone. The collection consisted of samples of four hundred twelve types of washi, along with various three-dimensional objects such as stationery boxes and helmets.

The washi pieces from the Parkes Collection included in this exhibition are woodblock-printed, decorative Karakami used on partitions in houses and shrines: oiled, textured gikakushi and kinkarakawakami used like leather for wall coverings, bookbinding and in the manufacture of small accessories; and various three-dimensional objects including a telescope, a helmet, shoe covers, hair ornaments, and branches, bark and pulp that illustrate the papermaking process. None of these pieces have been exhibited in the UK prior to this exhibition, although they are available in the Economic Botany Collection for use by students and researchers.

The Washi: The Soul of Japan collection grew out of 10-year project that began in Japan in the 1990s with the goal of documenting the state of washi production in Japan at the turn of the second millennium. This project culminated in the production of a multi-volume washi compendium containing over 1000 washi samples made throughout Japan; several volumes from this compendium may be views in this exhibition.

Examples from the Washi: The Soul of Japan collection included in this exhibition include pure, undyed washi, watermarked and water-patterned washi, tie-dyed washi, fold-dyed washi, wax-resist dyed washi, stencil-dyed wash, washi with inclusions, textured and treated washi, and washi decorated by painting, gluing and woodblock printing.

For those interested in learning more about washi and the papermaking process, this exhibition is accompanied by a variety of other events in Norwich relating to washi and paper art, as well as by a book that accompanies the exhibition.


  • Performance by Nagauta musicians
    Monday 11 March
    4.00pm, Duke Street Building, NUA Campus
  • Washi: the Art of Japanese Paper
    A One-Day Conference at Norwich University of the Arts
    Saturday 16 March
    Duke Street Building, NUA Campus

  • This conference provides a rare opportunity to learn about papermaking and paper history in Japan, and about the reception of washi in the west. It will be of interest to historians, conservators, artists and papermakers, as well as all who love the art of Japan. The event forms part of six-week festival of Japanese paper in Norwich, and the day includes private views of two special exhibitions, one on washi between 1870-2010 held at The Gallery at NUA, and one showing contemporary responses by paper artists to washi held at Anteros Arts Foundation.

    Tickets: £35
    To book a place please email: 
    For more info: 
  • Papermaking Master Class and Demonstration
    Japanese Papermakers: NARUKO Tetsuro and KASAI Shinji
    Sunday 17 March
    Textiles Workshop, NUA Campus

    The workshop demonstration will provide a very special opportunity to watch, first-hand, Japanese Masters of their craft at work. We will also have the opportunity to visit the Washi exhibition in NUA Gallery. Spaces are limited and will be provided on a first come first served basis.
  • Lunchtime Talks in the Gallery at NUA

    As part of our Lunchtime Talks programme gallery staff presents a short discussion about Washi collection.

    Tuesday 12 March
    12.30pm in the Gallery at NUA admission free, no booking required.
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