Born in 1972, Nagaoka, Niigata Pref.
“Actually I worked as an electrician before I started making paper. Having this background and knowledge about electricity can be sometimes very useful…for instance when we create Washi for lanterns.“
Showing us many lanterns with beautiful Washi shades at his workshop in Oguni, Niigata, Master Imai explained with a gentle smile.
Since a long time, people in Oguni made paper as a winter time job. This tradition and the paper „Oguni-gami“ has nearly died out, because of the successor problems…like in other areas in Japan. The turning point for Master Imai was meeting his wife Chihiro. Her father is a carpenter and also a paper maker in the winter time ,but he wanted to expand the paper making business and he also needed a successor in his footsteps.
For keeping the tradition of the area, Master Imai accepted his destiny. Since 22 years he mastered the complete process of Japanese paper production – including growing Kozo plants by himself. Paper making in the „snow country“ is a challenge and it means fighting against hard weather conditions. We can easily imagine it was very difficult for a young, newcomer in the business. Behind his gentle-mannered impression, there is without question a very strong passion for paper.
This young master’s attitude to explore the way of ‘Washi’ shows us a new direction of using Washi and it reminds us of the word „tradition means creation“ by Artist Taro Okamoto(1911-1996).
Some examples to use Washi in a new way are the beautifully handmade labels for the bottles of the local Sake-Company „Kubota“ , business card holders using the Origami technique called „Orinmo“ , or collaborations of the Nagaoka Institute of Design and the Trier University of Applied Sciences and so on. One amazing project is the interior design of the Nagaoka City Hall Plaza “Aore Nagaoka” by World-famous Architect Kengo Kuma. There, 3000 sheets of Kikuban ( 65 x 99cm) Oguni Washi was used to cover the walls. It created a stunning impression and the visitors worldwide are fascinated by this unusual and spectacular building.
Since 2015 Master Imai became president of the Echigo Raw Paper Promotion Association and he is actively working together with everyone in the area involved with Japanese paper making.
Master Imai’s Paper: