Paper Shopping in Japan – Away We Go!

My corporate job focuses on learning and development. I leverage those skills in Japan by providing leadership training for churches, non-profits and government agencies. We leave for Japan this week to begin planning a new leadership development program with a new organization. As part of our travels, we have incorporated in excursions to Japanese handmade paper shops, stores, and segments of the city. Interestingly enough, Japanese paper makers usually produce paper by season – in the fall they sell fall colors in the spring they sell spring colors. Our last trip was November of 2011, so fall color palettes were in all the stores. This October we expect to find the same color schemes available for purchase. I know they will be the same fall color palate and yet it is always exciting to see what new things have been created.

In my studio, I have gathered drawers and drawers of paper from across the globe, with the papers from Japan being amongst my favorites. It is one thing to use a piece of paper that was bought in a store or given to me as a result of someone’s travels. It is a completely different experience to use a piece of paper and know the place in which is it was made…and the person who made it! THAT piece of paper takes on a life of its own within the work of art. When I cut and glue it I can picture in my mind the streets we traveled and the people we interacted with in order to bring that piece of paper to America. Someone once asked me if it was hard to cut up such precious and often expensive papers for my mats. Honestly, yes and no. Yes, in that I know what it took to make that single unique piece of paper – the labor, traditions, and skills the artisan used to complete that single sheet. No, in that I feel I am sharing the paper with the world by making it part of my art…it’s like helping that piece of paper reach its potential when I use its beauty to create a one-of-a-kind work of art. (That might sounds corny, but it’s true!)

To facilitate the paper buying process, we bring velcro straps with us (we bought them in Japan during our second trip!) to wrap around the roll of paper we bring home. They act as a handle and allow us to carry the roll more easily. We have several online paper suppliers we use for scraps and international papers, but buying from the country where it was made makes a HUGE difference. The average price for a piece of Japanese paper in the U.S. can run from $4.50 to $35.00 per sheet, depending upon the design. In Japan, that price can be cut in half or often a third. It makes sense for us to buy it while we are here, and because handmade paper is considered a national treasure of Japan it is not subject to duty when bringing it back into the states – which is another savings. As my husband and I both use paper in our crafts (he makes books, boxes, and journals) we usually look at paper from both perspectives – his and mine – and pick the sheets that will best suit us both.

All in all, the places, people and prices make it an excellent purchase and wonderful adventure.This trip we are traveling to Tokyo, Atami, and several areas around Mt. Fuji. We will have an opportunity to visit a couple of our favorite paper shops in Tokyo, and we hope that we will find some new places with undiscovered paper treasures. As we travel we will chronicle our paper adventures and keep you posted, and of course include pictures – where we can – of the places and people who make those beautiful handmade papers… so for now, sayonara – check back later for another paper shopping adventure in Japan!

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