Popular manga artists have begun a project in central Japan to preserve their work in ink for generations to come, using durable "gampi" paper in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, the birthplace of traditional "washi" handmade paper.

"We can enjoy manga because we have peace. We will preserve manga drawings as a symbol of everlasting peace," said Tamotsu Tanaka, who organized the initiative as the head of an association for the cultural preservation of washi and manga.

Tetsuya Chiba is pictured at his desk in his atelier at Chibatetsuya Production in Tokyo's Nerima on Nov. 1, 2022. (For editorial use only)(Kyodo)

Famous manga artists such as Tetsuya Chiba, author of "Ashita no Joe," Mari Yamazaki, known for the series "Thermae Romae," Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, of "Yamato Takeru" and "Namuji" fame, and Motoka Murakami, illustrator of the "Jin" series, all participated in the first phase of the project.

They did the ink paintings of the characters and other features from their work on gampi paper made entirely from fibers taken from the inner bark of the gampi tree.

The drawings are being displayed in the "Manga Shoso-in Exhibition" at the Museum of Washi and Culture in Echizen from April 29 to June 26.

Artisan Naho Murata stands next to drawings on gampi paper in photo taken on April 2, 2023, at the Paper & Culture Museum in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture. The leftmost painting is by Tetsuya Chiba, and the other two paintings are by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. (For editorial use only)(Kyodo)

Also made from fibers taken from the "kozo" and "mitsumata" plants, washi paper is highly durable.

The Shoso-in treasure house at Todai-ji temple in Nara, western Japan, has documents written on washi dating back some 1,300 years. In particular, gampi has been used to keep important records since ancient times because of its strong resistance to insect damage.

Chiba, who drew the profile of Joe Yabuki, protagonist of the "Ashita no Joe" boxing manga series, said leaving his drawings much like the "Choju-giga," or the Japanese ancient picture scrolls of frolicking animals, to posterity is a "dream" he never imagined.

"It's a great honor to be able to show people a thousand years from now the kind of manga culture that flourishes today," he said.

Motoka Murakami. (Kyodo)

Murakami drew a woman attempting to write a letter to a samurai warrior on a battlefield at the end of the Edo Era (1603-1868).

"Manga is not something people can enjoy in times of conflict," he said. "I made the drawing, hoping that peace will last a long time."

The impetus for the project came out of a fear held by Naho Murata, an Echizen washi artisan, that the future of gampi paper is in peril.

Although long considered "the highest grade of paper," gampi's current uses are limited to printmaking and calligraphy.

Afraid that paper-making skills would eventually die out if demand continued to fall, she consulted Tanaka, an acquaintance of Chiba's, leading to the establishment of the association for the cultural preservation of manga and washi.

After the exhibition, the drawings will be kept in the custody of the association. "We want many people to see them in various places," Tanaka said.

He said a museum in Poland has shown interest in holding a special manga exhibition.

Tanaka said he plans to expand the project to a network of 20 to 30 popular manga artists.

Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. (Kyodo)

A collection box will be placed at the exhibition in Echizen to collect donations for refugees from war and disaster through the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The proposal was an ardent wish of Chiba's, stemming from his experience of near starvation after his family's escape to Japan from Manchuria, now northeastern China, following the end of World War II.

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