July 25, 2024
By Toru Miyagawa / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
A statue of Murasaki Shikibu stands in Murasaki Shikibu Park.

ECHIZEN, Fukui — A new station located in the middle of rice paddies has opened on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, which was recently extended from Kanazawa Station to Tsuruga Station in Fukui Prefecture.

By Toru Miyagawa / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Echizen-Takefu Station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line

Among the six stations in the newly extended section, Echizen-Takefu is accessible by only Shinkansen bullet train. The station building was designed using specialties such as paper, joinery and cutlery from Echizen, the city the station is located in.

Washi, a type of traditional Japanese paper, is among those specialties. Echizen is one of the top producers of washi, and paper made there is called Echizen washi. The walls of the waiting room in the station’s concourse are papered with Echizen washi.

I visited Echizen Washi Village to see the craftsmanship that goes into papermaking there.

Echizen Washi Village is an area dotted with several washi-related facilities such as the Paper & Culture Museum, where visitors can learn about the history of washi, and the Papyrus House, where people can try their hand at producing washi. At the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum, visitors can observe the process of making washi using traditional methods.

By Toru Miyagawa / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Naho Murata, a traditional artisan, makes washi traditional Japanese paper.

The materials used to make Japanese paper mainly come from three plants: kozo (a type of mulberry tree), mitsumata (Oriental paper bush) and gampi (Diplomorpha sikokiana), a type of flowering plant.

“Each of them has its own characteristics,” said Naho Murata, an artisan who was demonstrating the process of making paper. “For example, kozo’s thick and long fibers create strong paper.”

The raw materials extracted from these plants are mixed in a vat with water and glue that is created using a plant similar to hibiscus. Murata scooped some onto a screen and shook the screen to spread the fibers evenly. The amount of time spent on shaking is said to be judged solely on the appearance of the paper being made. This work is dependent on a craftsperson’s expertise that comes about only through experience.

The Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum is a unique facility in Japan where visitors can observe the entire process of papermaking, from the preparation of the raw materials to making paper and drying it.

The Japan News

Focus on Murasaki Shikibu

The city of Echizen is drawing special attention this year because Murasaki Shikibu is being featured as the main character in public broadcaster NHK’s iconic historical drama. Murasaki Shikibu is the author of “The Tale of Genji,” which is considered to be the world’s oldest full-length novel, and she once lived in Echizen.

By Toru Miyagawa / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Murasaki Shikibu Park has a garden and pond. Wisteria will be in full bloom from late April through May.

It is said that she spent about a year while in her 20s there following the appointment of her father, Fujiwara no Tametoki, as Echizen-no-Kami, or the lord of present-day Fukui Prefecture excluding its southern part, in 996. There is a statue of her in Murasaki Shikibu Park in the city as well as a reproduction of a garden from the time.

The adjacent Murasaki Shikibu Museum of Echizen details the relationship between the writer and the city via panels and videos. It also has an impressive display of dolls depicting Murasaki Shikibu and others traveling from Kyoto to Echizen. The procession of 46 people is reproduced with dolls made of Echizen washi.

I visited the city before the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line was extended. Next time, I’d like to come by Shinkansen.

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum

By Toru Miyagawa / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum.

Open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays and the year-end and New Year holiday period. Admission: ¥300, which includes access to the Paper & Culture Museum located in Echizen Washi Village.

Murasaki Shikibu Museum of Echizen

By Toru Miyagawa / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Exhibits at the Murasaki Shikibu Museum of Echizen help visitors learn about Murasaki Shikibu’s biography and her life.

Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Mondays — or Tuesday if Monday is a holiday — and the year-end and New Year holiday period. Admission is free. Entry to Murasaki Shikibu Park is unrestricted.

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Japan Tourism is presented in collaboration with Ryoko Yomiuri Publication, which publishes Ryoko Yomiuri, a monthly travel magazine. If you are interested in the original Japanese version of this story, click here.  

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