Echizen Washi Village

Posted on October 9, 2018 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

the JR Johana Line

the JR Johana Line

Belles montagnes et mer  the JR Johana Line

The JR Johana Line in Toyama and the poster for the Belles montagnes et mer sightseeing train

 

When foreign visitors think of Japanese railway, the first thing they think of is likely to be the sleek Bullet train/ Shinkansen. As much as I appreciate them, I have a particular soft spot for the slower retro 2-carriage local trains that go through small village stations. These trains and stations are old-school and delightful, and often carrying very few passengers. In Toyama prefecture, I took the JR Johana line which originally started in 1897 by the Chūetsu Railway, but now it is run by JR West. Although the journey was not long, it was lovely nonetheless, and it made me want to take more local train journeys around Japan in the future.

 

japanese bento

Japanese train  Japanese train bento

Japanese train station poster

Top two rows: Shinkansen & bento for the journey; Bottom row: poster warning passengers not to text while walking at the train stations (we need them in every country!)

 

Another thing I love about rail travel in Japan is the amazing bento that are sold at the train stations. Usually these bento consist of local produce and specialties that are unique to that region, and so every station would offer something different.

Even more surprising was when I encountered a contemporary craft gallery inside a train station... during my transit at the Takaoka station, I came across Monono-Fu Gallery, where they exhibit and sell exquisite crafts that are made locally. I even noticed the Honeycomb tin basket from our shop; it was good to be able to locate its origin in person. Aside from metal works, the region also produces wood products, washi paper goods and ceramics etc – it is a fantastic idea to promote the local crafts and perhaps more stations should follow suit.

 

gallery monono-fu  gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

Locally-made crafts are promoted and sold at the Monono-Fu Gallery inside the Takaoka train station

 

Although Mino is famous for its washi paper (due to its status as the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage), it is Echizen in the Fukui Prefecture that has the highest production of washi paper in Japan. The history of washi paper-making in this region dates back to 1500 years ago, and currently there are 70 washi industries in Echizen, mostly family-run businesses, employing around 500 people in the Imadate area called Goka, which includes five villages of the town, Oizu, Iwamoto, Shinzaike, Sadatomo and Otaki. These villages have been producing Japanese paper since 6th century and constitute "Echizen Washi no Sato". Every spring, there is a Kami festival in Washi-no-Sato that celebrates the paper goddess, Kawa-Kami Gozen and the two local gods at the Okamoto Otaki Shrine.

After learning about the Echizen washi village in Takefu (a small town which is part of the Echizen City), I went online to find out more and on how to reach it. However, I learnt that getting there is no easy task without a car, and I could not find any accommodation nearby either. Eventually I contacted Katz, a local photographer whose contact is on the official website and he kindly assisted me with the accommodation and travel itinerary.

 

echizen

echizen

echizen

A miserable day in Takefu

 

Aside from washi paper, Takefu is also known for its 700-year old knife-making industry and its knife village. I was rather unlucky when I arrived at Takefu, because the scheduled bus didn't show up at the train station (the third time during my trip), and I had to contact Katz for assistance. Then it was raining cats and dogs by the time I reached the washi village and it didn't stop until the next morning.

Unlike most of the cities/ towns I visited previously, I saw no foreign tourists, shops, cafes, restaurants nor pedestrians as I was walked towards the washi village. All I saw were residential houses, warehouses, factories and small agricultural fields – it felt very suburban. This town is unlike any towns that I have visited before, and it was quite a shock for me as I was expecting to see a charming town like Arimatsu or Mino. Yet this is the other side of Japan, a side that perhaps not many tourists get to see.

 

echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum

 

There are several buildings in the Washi Village, and one of them is the Paper & Culture Museum. The museum displays ancient documents showing the history and origins of Echizen Japanese paper, but there is little English explanation (probably because there are few foreign visitors here). I think this museum is less interesting than the other two venues in the village, and I didn't linger for too long. However, there is a washi paper library at the back that displays a variety of washi paper samples, which is worth seeing.

 

Papyrus House echizen washi village

echizen washi village Papyrus House

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

Washi paper-making workshop at the Papyrus House

 

At the Papyrus House, there is a paper souvenir shop and an area where visitors can try out some washi paper-making which lasts about 20 minutes. I decided to have a go at it and did manage to make a few pieces to bring home.

 

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

A washi paper and stationery shop in the washi village

 

Out of three venues, my favourite was the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum. Unlike the two other new buildings, this museum is situated inside a former paper maker's house from the Edo period (1748) , which was later dismantled and reconstructed on this site.

The most fascinating part of the museum is that visitors can watch the process of washi paper making by paper artisans using traditional tools. Unfortunately, I had missed the last session of the Japanese traditional papermaking workshop, but being the only visitor there, I was able to watch the artisan closely while she was working.

 

echizen washi village Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum

 

There is also an exhibition hall upstairs that showcase washi paper works from the region. I had a relaxing time here, and was especially grateful to the kind lady who gave me an umbrella to take away as it was chucking it down outside.

 

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum

 

After the museums closed, I had to wait around for the heavy rain to ease slightly before walking back to the minshuku, which was fairly basic with few amenities ( not even wifi). I didn't see other guests and I thought the place was not very clean, but since I was only there for one night, I just turned a blind eye to it. When I tried to locate restaurants nearby for dinner with google map, there were few and far between, hence I decided to wander around to see what I could find.

Eventually I found a soba restaurant that had a 'closed' sign hanging outside, even though it was supposed to be opened until 9pm. I walked up to the door to try my luck, and it turned out that the restaurant was indeed opened! The soba restaurant is run by an elderly couple, and aside from a young male customer, there was no one else around. I sat down and picked one a set meal from the Japanese menu, which I have to say was one of the best meals I have had throughout the trip. It was so simple, and yet so delicious. I thought the tempura was even better than the ones I had at the expensive Tenichi Ginza Honten with my friend in Tokyo a few years back. The homemade soba noodles tasted great, too. I thought it was ironic that I randomly walked into an almost empty restaurant in the suburbs and had a surprisingly satisfying meal. Perhaps the food tasted better because I was tired, cold and wet; or because i had no expectations. Anyway, that meal did make me feel happy at the end of a rather miserable day.

 

echizen washi village

A heartwarming dinner was what I needed on a cold and rainy night

 

The next morning, I went to say goodbye to Katz, and he said he was hoping to take me to some washi paper studios in Echizen if I had spent more time there. I was grateful for his generosity but at the same time felt quite disappointed with my stay (I think the heavy rain didn't help either). I am sure that one day was not enough, and there must be many interesting washi paper studios in the area that are worth visiting. Since this area is not a touristy region, it probably requires more research and planning beforehand, so perhaps it does deserve a second visit in the future.

 

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This post was posted in Travel, Paper art & craft, Anything Japanese, Contemporary craft, Transport, Japan, washi paper, Train journey and was tagged with paper craft, contemporary crafts, Japan, trains, washi paper, Monono-fu gallery, Echizen washi village

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