It has been nearly a month since I was in Japan for 30 days from May 9> June 10, 2017. After allowing myself to ‘digest’ everything, I have concluded that it was, simply, the ideal adventure in terms of learning through experiencing and doing. I did allow some time for frivolities, but for the most part, it was self-imposed work: printing, prepping tools and material, teaching a little, and further unfolding the ‘onion’ that is Japanese mokuhanga. Here’s a bit of what I’d like to share.
A Note of Appreciation: I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mokuhankan, the University of North Georgia’s Department of Art and College of Arts and Letters, and my wife, Margaret, for sponsoring my trip.
First Stop: Istanbul
My 44-hour flight with Turkish Airlines had a 10-hour layover at Attatürk Airport which allowed me to get into the old town of Istanbul.
One of my ‘bucket-list’ items since the early 80s was to see the Hagia Sophia– a center of Roman Byzantium built in 522CE under the emperor Justinian and converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in the mid-1400s. It felt relatively airy, yet chunky as one would imagine with construction of the time. Representational mosaics of Jesus and Mary, along with seraphim were left. Another surprise was that cats were allowed to roam free inside.
I found it pretty easy to get around Istanbul and would recommend that, despite media paranoia, get on a train, tram, or bus and enjoy the friendly folks and fascinating history.
Becoming Re-acquainted with Japan
On the second leg of my trip, I arrived at Narita airport and made my way to the apartment in Taito (in the s.w. corner of the once-famous Yoshiwara red-light district).
I really enjoyed waking up to the daily life of the neighborhood where grannies swept storefronts, people stepping around pet turtles, and very young kids walking or riding their bikes on sidewalks by themselves without any apparent worries (or negative consequences).
I eagerly walked the 8 blocks south to Asakusa via the Sensō-ji temple complex, to Mokuhankan– a print studio run by long-time printer, David Bull who has been living in the Tokyo area for over 30 years. He was just as friendly and energetic as I remembered and I felt as if the 15 years since I had worked with him at his home in Ome was a week ago. FYI, from 1996, Dave became the largest conduit of information for westerners trying to learn Japanese-style woodblock printmaking and was responsible for me to turn from being a commercial illustrator to going to grad school and devoting my career to teaching and practicing printmaking.
Since last time we met, he has been quite busy building upon his vision of being a major woodblock publisher- and by all accounts- he’s succeeded with Mokuhankan!
My head swum while he gave me a tour of the compact, but well-run facilities. I was introduced to the staff- here’s a picture of the print showroom with Mr. Toshikazu Doi who is a major shin-hanga print collector who also works part-time during retirement from Asahi Beer Co.
As you can see in the picture to the right, the studio’s street-front entrance leads upstairs to the print showroom on the second floor where “print parties” (hands-on educational introductions to the printing process) are held for a small fee.
The third floor is set up for production and, as promised, was one out of four printing benches that had been reserved for me for the month (note: the picture below was taken after I had a chance to mess things up or to “customize” my workspace).
Initially, it felt a bit weird to ‘fill’ a space, but as each printer came and introduced themselves and started working, I felt a little bit like a part of a print factory. I had brought enough printing equipment and pre-carved blocks to start which worked quite well in retrospect.
As you might expect, the regular staff was also a bit apprehensive (who is this new guy?, what does he want?, etc.), but, after a while, we found creative ways to goof off, we transcended language barriers with humor, and let ourselves get to know each other.
I am ‘OK’ as a printer, but I do know my place. Everyone showed me a lot of respect through helping me see the subtleties of printing. Along with previous experiences, I did also gain a bit of understanding how people learn. In late Sept., I have been asked to present a talk at the International Mokuhanga Conference in Honolulu concerning Environmental and Social issues and I plan to talk about the introduction of the apprenticeship model in higher education later…
Anyway, everyone associated with the print studio (staff, academic visitors, public) was exceedingly nice and personable and I do miss being a part of the scene. I also certainly received a lot from everyone there and I do hope that I added to Mokuhankan in some measure.