The Diplomas of Ryoma Elementary School
Every year the sixth graders of Ryoma
Elementary School in Yoshino, Japan make their own diplomas. As befitting an important
papermaking area, the student make their diplomas starting in the Kozo field. They cut the
Kozo, strip off the bark, remove the outer bark, soften the inner bark, and so on until
they have a diploma. This entire process requires almost a month to complete.
This tradition has been carried on every year for almost twenty years through the
efforts of master papermaker Mr. Hiroyuki Fukunishi and Mr. Hirofumi Honsako (The kirigami
on the left by Mr. Masaru Satoi, a teacher at Ryoma Elementary school, shows Mr. Honsako
teaching the students one of the final steps of the papermaking process).
On the right is a Kozo field that belongs to Mr. Fukunishi. A
similar field is owned by Ryoma Elementary School where the children cut the Kozo to be
used in their diploma.
This particular field is about 11 plants x 11 plants. The distance between Kozo plants
is about 1.5 meters. About 1/5 of this, or 24 plants were harvested by the students. These
24 plans will produce about 2.2 kg of dried Kozo which will produce about 100 diplomas.
This entire field provides only enough raw material for a few days of professional
papermaking. One of the recurring themes of this article will be the vast effort required
to make Washi. Perhaps 80% of the effort is in preparing the materials to make the paper.
Forming the paper itself is only one small step.
Kozo does not have seeds, it is propagated through root cuttings. It takes about five
years from the initial planting before the first harvest. After which Kozo can be
harvested every year. The Kozo field on the right is about thirty years old and should be
productive for another ten years.
Early in the season the Kozo plants are pruned so that only the best branches that are
well spaced remain.
Kozo can be harvested any time after their leaves fall and before buds appear.
Typically, the first thing after New Years is Kozo harvesting - depending on the weather
this would be around January 10th. However, for the students this would be long after
graduation, so they harvest the Kozo in late November (this year they did it on 11/29).
Harvesting at exactly the right time will result in very easy separation of the bark after
steaming (see next step).
Kozo prefers direct sun and damp soil. And like bamboo, one must be very careful
otherwise the entire area surrounding the Kozo field will become a Kozo field.
To harvest Kozo, all of the branches are removed from the plant leaving perhaps 10 cm
of stem. When cutting the Kozo, do not use a hatchet. One wants to be careful in the
method of cutting so that next year's new growth will be correct and vigorous. To cut the
Kozo properly one uses a tool like a knife with handles on each end that are perpendicular
to the blade. Cutting from the bottom of the stalk upwards at an angle (pulling the tool
To prepare the stalks cut into lengths of 1.2 meters making sure to cut at an angle
from the bottom of the plant towards the top. The actual length to cut the plans depends
on the size of your steamer.
Finally, cut the branches off the main stalk very close to the stalk. Not doing this
will cause problems when stripping the bark.
On the left, master papermaker Hiroyuki Fukunishi oversees the
steaming of the Kozo bundles.
The barrel must be made of wood, not metal. Any wood will do. Stainless steel bands are
fine, but at all costs avoid iron. A good substitute for the barrel might be to use wine
The basin is at about 8 inches deep and is made of aluminum, not iron (iron is bad -
avoid it). The heat should be well distributed across the bottom of the basin in order to
avoid hot spots and consequently excessive heating of only the bottoms of the stalks above
the hot spot.
The length to cut the Kozo stalks was mentioned about to be 1.2 meters. This length is
adequate for this particular setup and will vary depending on the depth of the basin and
the height of the barrel. With this setup, the stalks of the Kozo come up to about the
middle of the barrel.
The Kozo is steamed for about 2 hours (this includes about 1 hour to get the water
boiling). A little longer may be necessary.
As a design issue, the barrel is up too high. If the brick enclosure were about half
the height, it would be much easier to manipulate the barrel, the Kozo and to work the
other steps involved.
After stripping the bark, the
Kozo is tied together for transport.
Starting from the bottom, the outer black bark will be stripped from the
inner white bark.
Using a razor, the outer black bark is easily stripped.
More than half of the material is the outer black bark which will be put to
use, but not in making this paper.
Kozo is washed in the river.
Kozo will be left for the day.
The damage to the
Kozo plant (the dark areas) are cause by the wind rubbing
the stalks together. The Kozo fibers around these damaged areas will have to be removed.
This is why each Kozo plant is pruned to minimize the chance of the stalks rubbing
together and causing extra work when the bark must be cleaned and sorted.
Kozo is pulled apart to test if it is ready. The fibers should pull
apart rather easily. Perhaps this winter is too warm because the fibers are tough and need
These scraps are the damaged parts of the inner bark. Instead of being
white and soft, these are scar tissue that is yellow and fibrous. Damage happens to the
inner bark when the Kozo stalks are knocked or rubbed together repeatedly by the wind.
Kozo is a long and tiring
process. Machines, including the Hollander, have not been made that can duplicate this
process. The motion is not just downward, but as the beater strikes the fiber the beater
is moved towards the body. This sliding action as the beater strikes the Kozo aids in
separating the Kozo fibers.
On the blackboard is a song that
papermakers will sing while beating the fibers. This helps to maintain the beat and to
take ones mind off of the long and labor intensive work.
Kozo is of black bark and specs. These would all have to be removed if
we were making real Yoshino paper. For the diplomas, however, the Kozo will be placed in a
Hollander and later bleached.
Kozo is obviously not ready, but the way to test is to place some in
water and if the fibers separate and disappear, then the beating can stop.
Using a "bouqet garni" of the berries, a dye material bath is
Kozo is dried in small clumps.
Clean-up for the winter so everything will be ready for next year.
Guides aid in aligning the keta so perfect posts can be formed.
The mould with the watermark for the diplomas.