The People

Here, in a series of capsule introductions, are the people behind the prints we are making at Mokuhankan. Not all the people will be involved in every print, and as time goes by I hope to involve a large number of the currently active craftsmen in our project, but here is a start ...

Papermakers: Mr. Ichibei Iwano (and family)

We are now down to the last three families making premium quality paper for traditional printmaking. There are actually hundreds of papermakers scattered around the country, but it is only these three who specialize in the Echizen hosho that has been the standard for top quality prints ever since the mid Edo period. We are using paper made by Mr. Ichibei Iwano, who is the 9th generation of his family to carry that name, and who a few years back received the rare honour of being named a Living National Treasure, as did his father before him.

Iwano-san is now in his seventies, and certainly doesn't produce all the paper by himself. It is a cooperative affair among all family members, who share the labor of preparing the mulberry, dipping the sheets, and finishing them ready for shipping to the waiting printmakers. But no matter which member of the family dipped the particular sheet that forms the print you receive, it is never described as being anything but 'made by Iwano Ichibei' - who stands responsible for everything done in their workshop.

Mokuhankan uses only paper Echizen Hosho - Iwano-san's finest paper - for all our prints.

Printer: Mr. Shinkichi Numabe

I was never in doubt as to who to select for the man to do the first printing jobs for Mokuhankan. Numabe san is not only my age (to within a couple of weeks!), but also shares my concern for the current state of our craft. He too, is disappointed with what he sees becoming the 'normal' standard these days, and is intent on doing what he can to maintain improve standards.

His main day-to-day work is done in the studio of the Yoshida family, where he works on printing their editions (these days mostly prints designed by the late Toshi Yoshida), but he also takes on 'outside' work, and is perhaps best known for being the main printer of English printmaker Paul Binnie's editions.

Numabe-san is responsible for some of the most difficult prints in our catalogue, notably Hilo Bay, and Aspen Grove.

Printer: Hirokazu Tetsui

Born in Tokyo into a printing family (his father has been a woodblock printer all his life), Hirokazu has been a member of the professional craftsmen's association since 2007.

In addition to his contributions to the family workshop, Tetsui-san does demonstrations at exhibitions, and in November of 2009 was sent by the Culture Ministry to perform demonstrations and promote traditional woodblock printmaking at a 'Russia-Japan Friendship Society' exhibition in St. Petersburg. He is determined to play an active part in the traditional printmaking field, where the lack of successors is a matter of great concern to all who love this art.

Tetsui-san printed the senshafuda designs in our catalogue, Spring 2011, and Summer 2011.

Printer: Yasue Tsushima

We realized quite some time ago that we will never be able to build a flourishing print publishing enterprise by depending on 'outside' printers. There are simply not enough good ones left, and those who are good, are busy. Neither Numabe-san nor Tetsui-san (introduced above) can take on very much more of our work. There is only one way forward - to train our own people.

Meet the first of our 'trainees' 'in house' printers - Tsushima-san! She started training in mid-summer of 2011, and made very rapid progress, taking on the job that autumn of printing the 300 copies of our New Year card. Since January of 2012, she has been working on prints for our catalogue. A series of posts over on the Mokuhankan Conversations blog - beginning with this one - introduced her and followed her progress. We need another half-dozen like her!

Examples of Tsushima-san's work in our catalogue are Plum Blossoms in Moonlight, and a reproduction of a very delicate Hokusai surimono Two Women in a Boat.

Printer: Ayumi Miyashita

Ayumi-san has come to us from far-off Hokkaido. After leaving high school in the spring of 2012, she headed for the big city with one thought in mind - get some training at becoming a craftsman in the woodblock printmaking field. (Yes, there are still such people!)

Her initial interest was (and still is) in the making of the traditional printer's baren, but she realizes that the process of developing that skill will take a very long time, and even when she is 'ready' and hangs out her shingle, making a living at it might be quite some challenge. So she quite sensibly came to us and discussed whether or not she could work as a printer as well. (And honestly speaking, there could be no better training for a baren maker than becoming a good printer, of course!). She started her training in the early summer of 2012, and very quickly reached the point where her work became ready for our catalogue.

She has become so good at this that the question of her future as a baren maker is perhaps something that we don't talk about much here ... In any case, for the time being, as long as she is willing to study and work with us, she's welcome!

Examples of Ayumi-san's work in our catalogue are Peony and Sparrow, and a reproduction of a Hokusai book illustration Soshi the Philosopher.

Carver: Tsunehisa Sato

After developing an interest in become a carver in the traditional style, Sato-san began studying and working under the tutelage of Motoharu Asaka, one of the most experienced carvers still working today.

His work is already attracting attention, he has been accepted into the association of professional printmaking craftsmen, and he is clearly at what is just the beginning of what we expect will be a long career in the field.

Sato-san's first jobs for us were the senshafuda designs printed by Tetsui-san: Spring 2011, and Summer 2011.

Designer: Jed Henry

It was a fortunate mix of ingredients that formed author/illustrator Jed Henry. Barefoot summers on the Ohio River. Painting trips in the country with his mom. A few years spent roaming the streets of Tokyo. Jed thanks his lucky stars for all these experiences, and draws on them daily to flavor his books. Jed believes that in telling a story, both the teller and the reader need to be having a good time. When Jed creates an illustration, he's always surprised by what happens on the page, and he hopes his viewers will be delighted as well. Jed currently lives in small town in the Rocky Mountains with his brilliant wife and beautiful daughters. When he's not writing and illustrating, Jed makes animated films. One of his films has received a college Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Designer: Kaori Seki

In her late teens Seki-san became interested in traditional ukiyo-e prints, and soon began creating images in a similar style. She now works as an illustrator, and takes part in frequent design events and exhibitions.

In April of 2011 she participated in the Japan Art Festival in New Zealand, and has a strong desire to help promote Japanese art around the world.

She is the designer of our senshafuda series.

Partner Shop: Yoshida Studio printer, Shinkichi Numabe

Numabe-san (introduced above) has been working as a printer for the Yoshida family for a few decades, originally working alongside Heihachi Komatsu, the printer illustrated in 'The Complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida HIroshi' on page 175. After Komatsu-san grew too old to handle the work, Numabe-san became the main printer for the Yoshida Studio, which is located in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, and now run by Tsukasa Yoshida (son of Toshi, and grandson of Hiroshi).

The Yoshida Studio no longer issue prints from the blocks prepared by Hiroshi (who died in 1951), but do offer printings of designs by Toshi (who passed away in 1995).

Numabe-san works in a room on the ground floor of the studio itself, and pulls these prints from the original blocks under direct family supervision, using the sample prints (and proofing instructions) left by his predecessors. Each print is stamped with Toshi-san's signature, along with (in the case of the larger prints) an English title. They differ from those issued during Toshi's lifetime only in the lack of the actual pencil signature. The paper used is the identical type, from the same maker who has been providing the Yoshida Studio with paper for decades - Mr. Kazuo Yamaguchi.

Numabe-san's current selection of Toshi Yoshida prints in our catalogue can be viewed here.

Partner Shop: Takumi Printmaking Workshop

Mokuhankan isn't the only 'good' workshop in town! :-) One other very interesting place is the Takumi Hanga Workshop run by carver Motoharu Asaka and printer Satoshi Hishimura. They are 'craftsmen for hire', and have done work for such artists as Moira Hahn, and Masami Teraoka.

They also do work for general publishers, and some years back, were heavily used by the Takamizawa Company, which - together with the Adachi Company - issued some of the best work done in the 20th century. Adachi is still at it, Takamizawa has gone under. But in an interesting twist, Dave was chatting with Asaka-san some time ago, and learned that at the time Takamizawa closed, he was able to procure not only a stack of completed prints, but a large number of their blocks.

It is items from this treasure trove that are being offered here in this Mokuhankan 'Partner Shop'. The prints are of two types: the actual left-over stock (printed in the immediate post-war period), and work pulled from the Takamizawa blocks by Takumi in the late Showa period. The former type will of course never be available again; as for the latter, Takumi has no plans at present to issue more re-prints, but the blocks are in careful storage, waiting for possible future opportunities ...

The current selection of Takumi Workshop prints in our catalogue can be viewed here.

Mokuhankan proprietor: David Bull

I don't want to talk too much about myself here. If you have wandered around Woodblock.com at all, you will know something about who I am, and what I am doing. I am starting this little publishing venture with no backing whatsoever, and we are going to try to pull ourselves up by our shoestrings, one print at a time.

Print publishers have come and gone over the years, mostly 'gone' these days. A couple of the Tokyo outfits have dabbled a bit with the internet, but they certainly don't grok the web, and their websites can't be doing much for their business. What is needed is somebody who knows a good bit about printmaking, someone who can bring a fresh viewpoint about what can be produced (instead of re-hashing the 'same old same old' all over again), someone who can communicate with the craftsmen in their own language, someone who has at least some ability to 'get the message out' (both domestically here in Japan, and overseas), and ... perhaps most importantly, someone who is enthusiastic about all this stuff. Can I have a show of hands? ...

I thought so ... Nobody here but me! :-)

So there you have it, the basic 'crew'. Watch this space for further developments!