About the Collection

Unknown Treasures ...

As is well known, a great many of the ukiyo-e prints made during the Edo era are no longer in Japan. During the 19th and 20th centuries, collectors from overseas eagerly snapped them up, and many of the wonderful collections they created are now stored in museums around the world.

Those collectors - both individual and institutional - focussed primarily on the 'classic' ukiyo-e prints, and of course they wanted to have original prints from the old days in their collections. That was all very well, but this did mean that a great many woodblock prints of other types ended up being ignored over the years.

Tokyo-based woodblock printmaker Dave Bull - living here since the mid-1980s - began to pick up interesting woodblock prints on an occasional basis during the years when he was developing his skills. Without a sensei to follow for advice, he needed to turn to the actual prints themselves for guidance. The Edo period prints were priced far beyond his reach, and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because during the Meiji and Taisho periods craftsmen with supreme levels of skill were still producing excellent prints, and these were available for reasonable prices.

Over the years, he has built up the collection by following one simple precept: such things as 'fame' (of the designer), 'value' (in the marketplace), 'original' (as opposed to 'reproduction') are of no interest to him. Only one thing counts when considering the addition of an item to this collection - is it a beautiful or interesting woodblock print?

There is a very interesting paradox at work here. Because the original ukiyo-e was not valued or considered important back in its own day, there was a great deal of very sloppy work done, and many surviving prints in those museums overseas are poorly made and/or are in poor condition. But because the Meiji and Taisho craftsmen and publishers now knew that their work would be appreciated by discerning collectors, some of them worked to an extremely high standard. We have prints in the Mokuhankan Collection that have reduced curators from world-class museums to tears.

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We have re-hired two three of the staff members who recently have had no work due to the Asakusa shop being closed, and they are steadily working through the collection, adding items to the database and preparing images. These are Patreon funds directly at work ... thank you again to everybody who is supporting us through that platform!

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This YouTube video introduces the Collection, and a number of the prints ...

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  • judging from emails we have received, there seems to be some confusion; please note that the items in the Mokuhankan Collection are not for sale - this is our permanent collection. Thank you for your understanding.
  • number of items currently online: 1,000+. Number of items waiting to be photographed and added to the database: 2,500+ It is going to take many years to get the bulk of it uploaded, but we hope that you will enjoy browsing through the items that are presently available.

Usage Permission ...

We have been receiving many requests for permission to use images from this website, so here is a clarification of what usage is permitted, and what is not ...

Far and away most of the woodblock prints included on these pages are in the public domain. The designers are long dead, and under most understandings of copyright, there are no restrictions on any use or adaptation of their work.

Photography though, carries its own copyright, and most museums around the world tend to restrict use of the images on their sites under that consideration. We intend to apply a different rule: we want the beauty of Japanese prints to be understood and disseminated as widely as possible, so we have no intention to tightly control our copyright in these photographs.

But having said that, we must also point out that there are a number of prints in this Collection that were designed by living (or recently passed) designers, and under current copyright laws, these images remain protected.

How can you tell which of these categories applies to any particular print? Check the 'Data' tab; you will find an entry for 'Rights', and this will tell you that the print itself is either 'Public Domain' or 'Under Copyright'.

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Usage rules

  • In the case of the images labelled 'Public Domain', we are licensing them under the Creative Commons category of "Attribution-NonCommercial" (CC BY-NC). Information on this license can be found here.
  • For images labelled 'Under Copyright' we are in no position to grant you any rights at all. We feel that our own use of the images on this website constitutes an acceptable 'Fair use', given the educational and non-commercial approach of this website. Please respect the rights of the designer in your own approach to that group of images.

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