Skilled washi artisan Tono Sanae

Postcard-size Ezo washi made from (from the left) Japanese elm, butterbur and Manchurian elm (550 yen each)
Tono Sanae making Ezo washi. The green of the butterbur stands out amid the white of the kozo

Water mixed with Japanese butterbur and kozo (a type of mulberry), which are raw materials for washi (Japanese paper), is passed through the screen five or six times. “The results differ according temperature and humidity. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Tono Sanae (49) of the Ezo Washi Studio ‘Kamibiyori’ in Sapporo, as she smiles and finishes the papermaking process.
  Tono is an artisan who creates Ezo washi, which is made mainly from fibers of plants native to Hokkaido. “My products are made from materials unique to Hokkaido; I hope it makes washi more familiar to people,” she says. Butterbur with its beautiful dark green color; Manchurian elm, with its wild brown color; and flax with its almost beige luster. The postcard- and A3-size sheets of Ezo washi, which are completed after the paper has dried, are abundant in expression.
  The ingredients – plants that grow in Hokkaido – are harvested and boiled, and the remaining fibers are beaten to break them up. Tono has worked with nine different kinds of plants, but it has been a continuous process of trial and error. While adding kozo from outside of Hokkaido, she says, “How can I bring out the original texture of Hokkaido-grown plants? It’s genuinely pleasing to communicate with the materials.”
  Originally from Sapporo, Tono became fascinated by “the colors and techniques” of washi at the age of 33, and moved to the city of Echizen in Fukui Prefecture to work at a washi workshop. After five years of training, she established ‘Kamibiyori’ in Sapporo in 2012, and began making Ezo washi the following year.
  In addition to enthusiasts of illustrated postcards and letters, the number of washi fans is increasing, including cafés that display the paper decoratively, and restaurants that use it continually in the form of luncheon mats. “In future, I want to try poplar and willow bark. I hope people will incorporate Ezo washi into their daily lives and feel the breath of nature living in Hokkaido,” says Tono.

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Ezo Washi Studio ‘Kamibiyori’