“When humans calm down, we unconsciously take deep breaths,” says Xintong Li, the lead Color/Material/Finish designer of the Mazda MX-30. “This inspired our concept and our choice of materials for the car’s interior. Each breath a person takes has its own pace and rhythm, so when looking for inspiration as to how to portray individuality in the MX-30, the idea of washi paper came to mind.”
In the most basic terms, washi paper simply means traditional Japanese (wa) paper (shi). It was given this name in the mid-19th century to distinguish it from the machine-made, wood-based paper imported from the West. But it is a significantly different material and has a history dating back centuries — Japan was producing washi paper 600 years before knowledge of papermaking even reached Europe.
To understand how the material could inform the interior design of an electric vehicle, it’s essential to understand washi paper.
The Art and Tradition of Washi Paper
Traditionally made from three plants — kōzo (mulberry), mitsumata, and gampi — washi has a visible texture and strength that make it truly distinctive. Such was its predominance in everyday life that lanterns, umbrellas, clothing, shoji sliding doors, and even the first banknotes were all made from washi.
However, from what was once a prolific nationwide industry, there are today fewer than 350 families that continue to make the paper by hand. The craft is considered so culturally and socially important to Japan that UNESCO has deemed it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Sourcing Inspiration from History
While researching materials to feature in the MX-30, Xintong Li and her colleague Akitomo Hara visited two such companies: Kawahira and Nishida Washi. Both create Sekishu washi, which is only produced in the Iwami region of Shimane prefecture.
“The washi paper we usually see in daily life is brittle, weak and delicate,” says Li. “I learned from these manufacturers that genuine Japanese paper, which can only be made by a limited number of craftsmen, has fascinating features, being very firm, durable, unbreakable and water-resistant.”
From Awagami, an innovative manufacturer located in a small village in Tokushima prefecture that was founded by the Fujimori family eight generations ago, Li and Hara learned about the future of washi. Awagami is moving the tradition forward by creating organic washi wall coverings and the world’s first collection of washi specially crafted for fine art inkjet printing. Their merging of traditional craftsmanship with contemporary uses has garnered Awagami quite a reputation within the art and design community, with architects, interior designers, art conservators, and luxury brands turning to their expertise.
Although washi itself is not used in the MX-30, its significance in Japanese society and its unique texture helped inform the material Mazda’s designers crafted specifically for the vehicle.
Developing Tomorrow’s Materials
Looking to create a sense of breath in the MX-30’s interior, washi paper sent the team in the right direction — looking to history. Everything they needed to inspire the perfect material was at their fingertips. “We believed that the ‘breathing’ material in the MX-30 should not simply be decorative, but meaningful, too, and accentuate the space,” says Hara. “Washi absolutely matched the material style we were looking for.”
That ‘breathing’ material the team crafted for the MX-30 is made from recycled plastic bottles and is featured as the interior door trim. More than just an accent, this alternative material carries with it the same meaning as the MX-30 itself — a product informed by history, designed for tomorrow.
Particularly fitting for Mazda’s future-facing EV, this innovative material is balanced with a critical piece of Mazda’s history: cork. Adding warmth and texture to both the floating center console and the door grips, as one of the most highly renewable and eco-friendly resources available, cork is a nod to Mazda’s commitment to the environment as well as our roots as the Toyo Cork Kogo Corporation.