WASHI: The World of Japanese Paper, by Sukey Hughes (Kodansha, $45). Americans are accustomed to regarding paper as a cheap, disposable commodity, produced in endless webs by enormous machines to fill the demands of our industrialized society. Yet alongside high-speed, mechanized paper technology there exists another, older tradition of hand papermaking, whose survival in Japan is th subject of this fascinating book. Sukey Hughes, an Amercian who studied papermaking under the master papermaker, Seikichiro Goto, describes the place of handmade washi in Japanese culture, and relates the processes that go into the formation of this unusual material. Hughes discusses some of the objects made from washi that contribute to the quality of Japanese daily life. Paper covers windows and divides rooms; it can be waterproofed and made into umbrellas, fashined into clothes, and formed into fans, lanterns and kites; it is a medium for writing and printing, and plays an important role in religious devotion. The plant fibers which are used to make washi come from the inner bark of certain native trees. The preparation of Japanese handmake paper, which is slow, painstaking work, is carried on for the most part as a cottage industry in small country villages. The result is a rich variety of papers, many of which Hughes names and describes. The drudgery and relatively modest rewards of the craft, however, are causing many young people to abandon their parents' work in favor of city jobs, thus raising the danger that this traditional craft may one day die out. On the other hand, the passionate love which the Japanese feel for washi has led to efforts to ensure that the skills of its manufacture are not lost and thar washi remains "an expression of this country's ideals of beauty and intense feeling for nature."