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    The first Western-style paper mill opened in 1875 in Japan[UPDATED: 10-4-2021]

    As Japan rapidly modernised in its Meiji era (1868-1912), after more than 250 years of isolation, there was a huge demand for paper to meet many types of new and emerging needs including: the printing of public bonds and paper money; newly launched magazines and newspapers; as well as paper certificates for new regulations for the registering of land and property ownership. 

    Despite Japan’s long and distinguished history of papermaking that stretched as far back as 610, when Chinese papermaking technologies first arrived in Japan through Korea, traditional handmade paper manufacturing could not keep up with the massive demand that modernisation created. 

    Imports of Western machine-manufactured paper that could be mass-produced by employing paper pulp, increased massively while production of traditional Japanese paper, Washi, declined as Japan urbanised and modernised.

    Historically, during Japan’s feudal periods most feudal lords, daimyo, considered papermaking of strategic importance, as paper was even in their eras an indispensable and highly valued commodity. So they developed secure local supplies to meet the needs of their given territories.

    In a similar manner, some farsighted Meiji era pioneers, like the daimyo before them, thought modern Japan also needed its own local machine-made paper capabilities.

    In 1873, Eiichi Shibusawa (1840-1931) set up Shoshi Kaisha, subsequently renamed Oji Paper Company, and Japan’s first Western-style machine paper mill was officially opened two years later on the 16 December 1875. With the help of a 26 year-old British expert, Frank Cheethmen, the company imported equipment. Shibusawa image will appear on new 10,000 yen Japanese banknotes that will be introduced in 2024.

    The Oji paper mill was located in Oji in Tokyo close to the Otonashi River for logistical reasons. Recycled undergarments were used initially to make the first paper produced at the mill.

    Four years later Japan’s first wood pulp mill was opened. The Oji Group, a pulp, paper and packaging business still exists today.

    Despite paper being invented in China, and only arriving in Europe centuries later, in the 11thcentury, modern machine-made paper was actually first created in France in 1798, according to Kiyofusa Narita (1884-1979) Director of the Paper Museum in Tokyo and a former executive at Oji Paper. Production in Japan of this type of paper only began about 76 years later.

    Nonetheless, despite the delays, Japanese paper today in all its forms is considered some of the best produced in the world. And as is often the case in Japan its paper has its own unique standard sizes, quality scales and types including Tengujo, the world’s thinnest paper.

    Today Tengujo is a machine-manufactured paper produced by Hidaka Washi a factory in Kochi Japan. It is still, however, made using the bark of Kozo (paper mulberry) trees just like Washi, traditional Japanese paper, was in the 7th Century. Despite machine-manufactured paper being a delayed Western import Japan is a strategic player in the international paper industry, Tengujo, for example, plays a critical role in the conservation of paper manuscripts around the world at the Louvre, the British Museum and Library of Congress, and Japan can today also proudly claim to have produced the world’s smallest printed book, as well as the world’s thinnest paper, something that would please Shibusawa and his peers who brought modern printing to Japan.
    The first Western-style paper mill opened in 1875 in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    An Italian who came to Japan to design the nation’s first modern banknotes helped found one of the country’s most important printers[UPDATED: 11-21-2019]

    Edoardo Chiossone (1833-1898) an Italian painter, engraver and lithographer arrived in Japan in 1875 at the height of Japan’s period of rapid modernisation, known as the Meiji Era (1868-1912), to help design and create the country’s first modern banknotes. 

    He designed banknotes including: a 5-Yen banknote; the 1878 1-Yen banknote, the first modern Japanese banknote to include an image of an individual the legendary Empress Jingu (170-269); and a banknote with the image of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) an important Heian Period (794-1185) poet and politician, for example.

    The image Chiossone created for the 1-Yen banknote depicts a somewhat European-looking Empress Jingu, wearing heavy ornate necklaces in an oval on the righthand side of the banknote.

    In total Chiossone created 500 plates that were used to print bonds, stamps, securities, as well as banknotes for use in Japan. Initially, many were printed outside Japan.

    Chiossone, who stayed for 23 years and died in Japan, had a major influence on the world of printing, publishing and even on how the world saw Japan and its Emperor at the time, the Meiji Emperor (1852-1912).

    He is also credited with helping found the printing company Toppan Insatsu by training its two founders, as well as training many individuals who went on to transform Japanese printing and publishing.

    He worked very closely with Enkichi Kimura (1853-1911), for example, and others helping them to subsequently found Toppan, which has now become a global printing company and runs the Printing Museum, Tokyo. Among other things, the museum proudly displays the world’s smallest printed book, printed by Toppan in 2013. 

    Modern printing may have taken off much more slowly in Japan had it not been for Chiossone’s important contribution. He lived in Japan during a period when many new newspapers and magazines were launched and printing, like the Internet today, was a transformational technology. 

    Chiossone is also remembered for his famous 1888 widely circulated portrait of the Meiji Emperor, and his impressive personal collection of Japanese art, which is now housed at the Museum of Japanese Art ‘Edoardo Chiossone’ in Genova.

    An Italian who came to Japan to design the nation’s first modern banknotes helped found one of the country’s most important printers Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Long before Europe, papermaking know-how arrived in Japan[UPDATED: 7-5-2019]

    Papermaking arrived in Japan via Korea from China in 610 when Japan was ruled by Shotoku Taishi (574-622), an important historical figure in Japan and still admired today as one of Japan’s early pioneers and modernisers.

    The so-called Prince of Holy Virtue, a regent and author, is credited with many things including developing Japan’s first set of laws, establishing Japan’s first national library, authoring Japan’s oldest book, the Hokekyo gisho, as well as helping create Japan’s book loving culture

    He did many things, but his encouragement of the development of papermaking, through which he aimed to promulgate Buddhism in Japan, acted as facilitator for much of what he achieved and importantly led to the lasting records of his achievements surviving until today. 

    Paper was required for copying Buddhist texts. Initially, according to Kiyofusa Narita (1884-1979) Director of the Paper Museum in Tokyo and a former executive of Oji Paper Company Limited, the paper made using the newly imported methods was too brittle for this use and new approaches to papermaking were required using the bark of Kozo (paper mulberry) trees.

    The term Kozo is a loose one that can in fact be used to describe at least three different plants whose inner bark are used in traditional Japanese papermaking.

    This innovative enhancement is sometimes credited to the Prince himself who also encouraged the cultivation of Kozo trees in Japan.

    These and new subsequent innovations and enhancements led to the development of Washi, Japanese paper, which is now famous around the world, and is said in some of its forms to last over a thousand years

    It is held in high regard by artist and artisans, Rembrandt (1606-1669) is even said to have created works using Japanese paper.

    Some of the Buddhist charms, that were mass produced and printed under the Prince’s guidance and placed in pagodas and temples in Japan to bring peace to the nation, are regarded by experts to be some of the oldest, if not the oldest, printed matter extant in the world.

    UNESCO, in 2014, included Japanese handmade paper, Washi, to its list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. This recognition would be something hard for Shotoku Taishi to fathom, but if it were explained to him, he would no doubt be delighted by the recognition.


    Long before Europe, papermaking know-how arrived in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan