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'Miracle' natural fabric makes a comeback in Japan

Centuries-old 'washi' paper reemerges as a sustainable source of clothing

An assortment of clothing made using washi, or Japanese paper. The material is being lauded for its odor-fighting, eco-friendly and other beneficial properties, but high costs have hindered its spread. (Courtesy of ITOI LSR Co., Ltd.)

TOKYO -- As an endurance runner who sometimes covers long distances over several days, Yoshihiro Machida was used to getting blisters and damp, sweaty feet after a long run. If he crossed a stream or ran into a puddle, his feet would get wet and cold.

But about 10 years ago, Machida, 58, traded in his usual socks for a five-toed pair made of washi, or Japanese paper. "At first, the socks felt stiff and a little uncomfortable. It felt like walking on sand," Machida recalls. But, he adds, "I didn't get blisters, even after running for days."

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