Employee Spotlight: Fumie Watanabe

Meet Fumie Watanabe, our longest-term employee who has been with Edofiber and Nagai Paper Company for over 50 years. When Denzaemon Nagai, the founder of Nagai Paper Company left Ehime for Tokyo to open a little paper store, Fumie’s siblings came to Tokyo with Denzaemon. A few years later, Fumie joined Nagai to work together with his siblings at the store in Tokyo. For the first three years, Fumie worked at the warehouse where he learned all the Washi paper products and remembered all the names, sizes, prices of those products. Eventually, Fumie oversaw the sales team. At that time in 1980, the Nagai factory did not have a machine to process Foil Stamping on Washi paper. Since Fumie strongly felt its need, he gained the skills of processing Foil Stamping from one of his clients and brought the technique to the Nagai factory. The Foil Stamping department that Fumie established is still one of our main departments even after 40 years.

Fumie shares that there were many challenges in processing and distributing Washi paper at Nagai Paper Company. For example, gold leaf is made of metal, not ink. One day, Fumie recalls that the surface processed with gold leaf was rusted due to oxidization when processing the gold leaf onto dark-colored papers. This was unacceptable, and the work had to be redone; however, the client’s delivery date was fast approaching. Fumie and his team solved the problem by working straight through for two days without sleep. The work was accomplished and without oxidization to the client’s satisfaction. It was a great example of the commitment that Nagai Paper Company has for delivering quality Washi paper for its clients.

Fumie is very thankful for his good health and for working for Nagai during his career. Even now, he works on the front lines while receiving a generous. In honor of his service, Nagai presented Fumie with a framed portrait that has become a family heirloom.

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The Washi paper market is changing every day and Fumie enjoys the challenge as it provides opportunities to continue to improve his skills. He enjoys coaching and mentoring the junior tradesmen at Nagai. His advice: “It is important to accumulate every day’s work at the factory. Devote yourself to the work every day.” At Nagai, we want everyone to share information to create better Washi paper products. The future for Washi paper continues to grow.

Compared to Western paper, Japanese Washi paper changes like a living animal depending on how it is stored. When the weather changes, Fumie says that Nagai Paper Company carries over the work to the next day. When printing, the expansion, shrinkage or curling can affect Washi paper. Working with the paper is a challenge but Fumie has acquired the skills to deliver quality. Because Washi paper is delicate, employees at Nagai Paper Company work with care and devotion to solve these challenges. These elements distinguish Washi paper from all other papers.

Fumie never imagined that Nagai’s Washi paper would be sold overseas. Washi makes an elegant tapestry decoration on a wall to enjoy the beauty of Washi paper, but there are many other excellent features of Washi paper: it may serve as an insect repellent for packaging, or absorb moisture for preservative effects. Recently, Fumie says that Nagai has received a packaging project from a cosmetics manufacturer in the United States. Without Washi and its very flexible and adaptive qualities, it would not be possible for any company to do what Nagai has done for this project. The packaging was made by very thin Washi paper that had rayon fiber inside. Through the expertise of our processes, Nagai Paper Company was able to use its thin paper printing techniques to print a customized design with the company logo and finalized the packaging with a unique folding process. Fumie is proud of the fine capabilities that he and his fellow employees have developed in working with Washi paper for the benefit of their clients.