Wholesaling Fine Japanese Papers for Conservation, Art and Craft

Where there’s washi, there’s prosperity
Story of Moriki Paper<1>
in the early period (1925-1960s)

The Moriki family, founding family of Moriki Paper, were for a long time washi producers making paper in Ino Town, Kochi prefecture. Moriki Paper founder Yasumi Moriki’s uncle, Rinnosuke Hisamatsu was an apprentice of Genta Yoshii, the noted local figure who reformed many washi production techniques, including the development of Tosa Tengujo paper, a very thin paper for typewriting. At that time, in the turmoil of the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the local Tosa clan was struggling financially, but based on the efforts of Genta Yoshii and his apprentices, Tosa Washi developed into a major production area, triggering the rebuilding of the area’s financial affairs.

The present Moriki Paper was first established under the name Moriki Kamiten (Moriki Paper Store) in 1925 in Yokohama. The founder was Moriki Yasumi, who was born in Ino Town, Kochi prefecture in 1903, and is the great-uncle of current (3rd generation) president, Takao Moriki. The image of diligent Yasumi, who passionately loved washi, and devoted his life to the washi industry, is imprinted in the memory of all who knew him.

Yasumi was born into a family who made paper for a living, so he helped with the family business from a very young age, working late winter nights alongside the adults doing papermaking tasks such as chiri-tori, until he had a basic knowledge of the difficult work required of a paper producer. However, due to unfortunate circumstances, when he was fifteen, the family business had to be shut down, and he began working for Tosa Paper Company. He was assigned to the Yokohama office, at that time the representative trading port of Japan, negotiating with foreigners, and trading on site. Yokohama during this period was the gateway to Japan, and washi was, as one of the main industries of Japan, exported in huge quantities. In his adolescence, Yasumi was captivated by scenes of long lines of carriages carrying great quantities of washi exports, and had high hopes for the future of washi production. Yasumi, who grew up a witness to local poverty, thought, “I want to improve the fortunes of my home town through washi.” His dreams grew, such that he wanted to become independent, become a skilled trader, and purchase the local paper for as high a price as possible, bringing affluence to the local area.

Soon, with the shuttering of Tosa Paper Company’s handmade paper division, he decided to go out on his own. However, with the Second Sino-Japanese War, trade became extremely difficult, and washi exports were reduced to nothing. Immediately, WWII broke out, and in wartime the manufacture of munitions became the priority; in washi production areas they made paper balloon bombs, but there was very little need for traditional crafts, including washi. Returning from his military post in the Philippines, Yasumi was finally able to restart the washi export business. In order to remind people of the existence of long-forgotten washi, he contacted previous business connections and acquaintances, and distributed a washi sample book to many trading companies. After doing so, as if they had been just waiting for the revival of washi, orders from various countries poured in. Of course the Japanese, and foreigners too, were weary of the war, and they must have been eager for the pure warmth of washi.

Among the papers of the world, washi was (and still is) the most elegant and flexible, as well as the strongest. In many foreign countries, the introduction of Japanese production techniques was attempted, but they couldn’t make papers of the same quality, and had to give up. There was some aspect of the craft that only the Japanese were able to master.

However, because the production of paper balloon bombs and inferior quality washi had continued for such a long time during the war, the papermaking studios were not clean enough and the quality of the finished papers was poor, with the result that there was a lot of paper that couldn’t be exported. Also, because many papermakers had been deployed to the frontline during the war, inexperienced or elderly papermakers were all that remained. In this reality, Yasumi travelled around to many papermaking studios, offering guidance.

At the time, many foreign countries were demanding exclusively high grade papers; if not for the Japanese, with their exceptional techniques, those papers could not be made. Because customers in foreign countries desired top quality unbleached or pure white washi, as has been made in Japan since ancient times, Yasumi went around the country to Kochi, Ehime, Shimane, and other prefectures, visiting people in every location skilled in papermaking, asking for cooperation, and once again setting up a system for exporting washi extensively.

Even with the post-war shortages, Yasumi managed to find – and encourage papermakers to make – high quality washi just like that made in ancient times. From around this time, while avoiding unreasonable price wars by dealing with one company in each country, Moriki Kamiten (Moriki Paper Store) began to gain the trust of many trading partners around the world, and expanded the market. From that point on, traditional high-grade washi was revived in every part of Japan, and sent overseas.

The Reminiscences of Yasuo Kobayashi of Kadoide Washi

My first connection to Yasumi Moriki was when I was in my early twenties. On the occasion of the “All Japan Handmade Paper Association” meeting, Professor Yagihashi of the Agency for Cultural Affairs had taken me along, and he introduced me to Mr. Moriki. At that time it was our first meeting, but he said “by the way, I have a papermaking screen in my storehouse; I’ll send it along to you.” He sent 3 very large and excellent screens to me in Niigata. At that time, I was just a beginner, struggling to acquire tools, and I was very thankful, so I sent some yams from my garden as a way of thanks. After that, I saw him at his home and other places, and I was fortunate enough to keep in touch with him for several decades. He had a typical Meiji manner about him; he was straightforward and resolute. Among papermakers, he was regarded as a highly intellectual person, up in the clouds. Since everybody was a bit tense around him, I was nervous at first, but actually he was such a gentleman, and gradually I felt at ease with him. He had athletic build and his fashion was unlike the common Japanese person, but I can clearly remember that his clothing was always perfect and his shoes were always gleaming.

moriki paper