Paris Design Week – Y’s Yohji Yamamoto Parcours Papier text by Runzhou Sun

Dear Shaded Viewers,


Y’s Yohji Yamamoto boutique invited the Japanese duo Hiroyuki Saito and Yoshiki Uchida, respectively artisan and artistic director, to present their hand-made Japanese paper artwork Washi d’Ôzu during the Paris Design Week. Last week I  went to this event and had a chance to interview the two artists. Here is the story between them and the hand-made paper :

Thanks to Caroline Ponomarenko for providing the photos of this event


Saito has an atelier for paper-making in Ehime and Ushida works in Tokyo.

Runzhou : How did the two of you meet and how do you work together?

Saito : I’m a artisan and he is a designer. I was looking for someone to  design the packaging for our company. Someone introduce him to me.

Runzhou : Where does your inspiration come from  in terms of this work (Washi d’Ôzu)?

Ushida : It’s the spider web. We would like to attract the client by the exhibition in Y’s boutique and let them know more about Japanese paper.

Runzhou : So the patterns are all inspired by the spider web?

Saito : Yes, our shining point is also the use of color on our paper. Golden encountered black, which corresponds to the colors of Yohji’s boutique.

Runzhou : Why you are interested in paper-making? Why did you choose this material?

Saito : Because my father-in-law worked for Japanese local production. He is trying to revive the technique of making  traditional Japanese paper. You see, these papers are all hand-made but this is a disappearing skill. He would like to keep this tradition alive and protect the artisans. In Japan, paper is important in our daily lives. Everyone uses  paper, not only Japanese. I also feel there is a potential with the international market. Anyway, I love paper.

Runzhou : So paper is really a cultural heritage in Japan. Are there any other paper-making ateliers in Japan apart from yours?

Saito : There are many paper-making ateliers using traditional techniques to make paper. There are also many Washi ateliers. Usually the artisans are senior people. There is no way to educate young people to carry on the tradition.

Runzhou : So now there is a cultural break between senior generation and the junior in Japan?

Ushida : Yes, even though there are many ateliers,  they are disappearing because there is no successor.

Runzhou : What a pity…

Ushida, Saito : Yes…That’s really a pity.

Runzhou : What would you like to make  using the papers?

Saito : We like to use paper for interior decoration, like wall paper. We also make paper for calligraphy, the box…

Saito : When I graduated university my father-in-law started his career working on local production, I wanted to join him.

Runzhou : So it’s the family influence?

Saito : Not exactly. My wife comes from a region which is known for its paper-making technique. I love the paper made there.

Runzhou : Okay. You said  European people like the paper, how do you find this?

Ushida : I’m impressed by the fact that the Parisiens appreciate the Washi more than Japanese people.

Saito : Before, Japanese people used  paper for interior decoration like the doors consisting of paper and wood. Now it’s the western countries that use wood for doors and unfortunately  young people in Japan are less interested in the paper.

Runzhou : Why did you choose Yohji’s store to present your artwork?

Ushida : Yohji Yamamoto is famous for his use of black. Usually we work on white paper. So this time we would like to bring some fresh air in our artwork. We used black paper to pay tribute to one of the greatest Japanese artists. It’s time to do something new.

Saito : For me, it’s a dream place. It’s in the center of Paris. The boutique is famous. When they pass by the boutique, the Japanese people may rediscover the value of the paper…If the Parisien give a special attention to our work, probably the Japanese will re-appreciate the paper…

Runzhou : Would you like to make a world-wide tour? Like other cities in Europe?

Saito : I went to Milan for world exposition. I also went to London because we feel there is potential to expand our business there.

Ushida : I went to Milan and Monaco last year and I would like to go to Barcelona because I’m a football fan!

Runzhou : Do the people in other countries appreciate your work?

Saito : Artistically it’s positive. People love the paper. For business, we need to return many times to make people familiar with the paper. We would love to return to Europe regularly if we have the time.

Ushida : Although I feel the potential for business in London it is Paris that is really important to us.

Runzhou : How do you integrate the Japanese culture into your artwork?

Ushida : I always look into the past, family emblems or the Kimono pattern inspires me a lot. I would love to revive and reconstruct the traditional art in Japan. However, I never combine the contemporary art with my work. That is one reason we came to Europe, to find something new, to try to make it work.

Saito : Tradition is important. But we should not stay in the past. The skill of making paper is disappearing because it focuses too much on the past. It’s interesting to work with Ushida, the contemporary artist who designs some interesting things by using  traditional paper. We try to integrate some “modern” elements in our work because people are more interested in what is happening today. We try to make our work correspond to contemporary lifestyle.

Runzhou : The past and the present  meet in your work?

Ushida : Yes. For example, today’s exhibition reflects this philosophy. The fact that we held this exhibition in Paris, rather than Japan allows us to see something different. This can definitely enrich our mind. Europe is completely different from Japan, for example, the architecture, the castles…They have a different lifestyle. We also went to Centre Pompidou, for inspiration and it gave us new ideas.

Saito : In fact, my teacher is French. I learned gilding from him. The occidental culture influences me a lot and gives me some new ideas.

Runzhou : Okay good. We are impressed by the craftsman’s spirit as well as the use of high-tech in Japan. Have you ever integrated the high-tech in your work?

Saito : I learned computer science in college and I used to be a data engineer. I have used LED with paper for many years. There are many ways you can merge tradition with high-tech.

Runzhou : Thank you so much for this inverview.

Saito and Ushida : Thank you!