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What are we doing ...

Posted by Dave Bull on August 22, 2016 [Permalink]

I don't know ... should I post about this, or just let it go ...

Anyway, a bit of news came over the 'net today; another of those 'enterprising' publishers here who have jumped onto the 'Pop Culture as Ukiyo-e' bandwagon announced their latest issue ...

It's this design of the Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku:

OK ... but let's take a look at one of the closeups they also include on their page:

Good grief. Childish carving, childish colouring, ridiculously bad registration ... Is this where we've got to?

And then, at the bottom of their order page, they include this:


  • 職人が手作業で一つずつ制作するため個体差がございます、予めご了承下さい。
  • 制作過程で色ずれや色むら、紙のヨレ等が発生することがございますが、木版画の特徴の一つでもありますので、独特の風合いとしてお楽しみください。
  • サンプルと実際の商品は多少異なる場合がございます、予めご了承ください。

Shall we translate?


  • Because the products are made one by one by craftsmen, please understand that there will be variations in the quality ...
  • Gaps in the colour, uneven colouring, and variations in the paper will be present, but please enjoy these unique characteristics of the woodcut as a natural part of the production process.
  • The actual product may differ from these samples; we appreciate your understanding.

Need I add that they are limiting the production to 100 copies, with a price of 45,000 yen each (around $450 US).

They sold out on the first day ...

There's a bunch more I could write about this ... but I think I had just better let it go, and get back to work ...




Added by: Karl on August 23, 2016, 9:18 am

Imperfection is the foundation of its character and beauty.

I applaud their disclaimer and feel it a refreshing perspective on the craft.

Sometimes I wonder if you are missing that.

Added by: Michael Kohne on August 23, 2016, 11:40 am

If I were going to pay $450 for a print, I'd like the craftsman's best, not his 'whatever'.

Perfection is unobtainable. However, I'd like to see people try harder before taking that kind of money.

Added by: Stu on August 23, 2016, 12:55 pm

Just think of how much you could charge, for a Hatsune Miku Ukiyo-e of your normal production quality...

Added by: Jacques on August 23, 2016, 3:34 pm

And what gall to present sloppy printing as "a natural part of the production process" ...

Mind you, it didn't stop the buyers!

Added by: Dave on August 23, 2016, 3:59 pm

I applaud their disclaimer and feel it a refreshing perspective on the craft.

Karl, I can hardly believe you wrote such a thing. Is that how you treat your own clients - the people who order prints from you? "Maybe the registration will be OK, maybe it won't ..." Surely not ...

Added by: neuzd on August 24, 2016, 2:36 am

Imperfections and "jagged edges" can have their role and indeed give character in every discipline of art, but they can do so only if it makes sense in the chosen style.

If I can make an analogy to music: rock music can benefit a lot from aggressiveness and dirty style of playing, while from a classical music piece you expect it to be performed by the highest trained individuals with flawless instrumental technique.

Being a punk band and playing classical with classical instruments does not make you honest in the presentation of your music, it makes only for bad executed music.

Added by: Marc Kahn on August 24, 2016, 7:34 am

Hi Dave,

While you are reacting to this as if it were a disrespectful slap in the face (and to some degree it is), I believe that it would be wise to see it as a long-term benefit.


  • Through this, there are more people becoming aware of the existence of woodblock prints as an art form.
  • Some of those people feel thwarted because they weren't amongst the first "lucky" 100 folks to place their orders. Demand is being created.
  • Your version of Hokusai's iconic Kanagawa print is infinitely higher in quality at less than 1/3 the price. You have a plentiful supply of this high-value deal.
  • In a quiet, under-appreciated marketplace, any competition is good news. There's no such thing as bad PR.

So, I say, count your blessings. There will probably be some goodness which will spill over and head your way.



Added by: Dave on August 24, 2016, 7:51 am

In one sense, there is nothing new about this at all; when we look at the prints made back in 'the old days' we see clearly that far and away the vast bulk of them were cheaply and poorly made. When I tell people that "Back in the Meiji-era, the quality was stupendously high!" I'm 'cherry-picking' for sure. Most of the prints were cheap trash.

My frustration with this stuff comes from a couple of thoughts. 1) it devalues the field for all of us. I'm trying to spread the word about how beautiful these things can be, over and above the actual image value, and this works against that. And 2) this makes my work with my employees so much more difficult. They see this, and they see the price those customers are willing to pay, and they see the prices we here charge for our prints, and they see their own pay slips, and they add it all up ... It doesn't help 'morale' at all! :-(

Added by: Karl on August 24, 2016, 9:36 am

Embrace and except the imperfections. That will boost moral in your studio, that will let the spirit of Japanese craft evolve.

I hear The Great Wave is selling like crazy in Japan, the original one that is childish, with the flaws you so eloquently pointed out.

Added by: Karl on August 24, 2016, 10:59 am

"Maybe the registration will be OK, maybe it won't ..."

Your not quoting me... are you?

Nor are you quoting the printers of the Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku Woodblock edition that just sold out.

Added by: Qaantar on August 24, 2016, 7:40 pm

Hi Dave,

This sort of thing is inevitable in any effort -- whether it's wine, tea, music, or woodblock prints. You will have people that sell garbage for ridiculous prices, and you will have people that sell quality items too cheaply (happens less frequently, more common with hobbyists).

I think that the best that you can do is continue to be proud of the quality of your own work, and more importantly, continue to educate the public on what constitutes quality and why (which you already do). Unfortunately, there will always be instances of somebody pandering to a rabid fan base.

To the crew at Mokuhankan, 頑張って下さい!!

Added by: Jacob on August 28, 2016, 11:33 am


I appreciate your work, standards, and pricing. Mokuhankan is doing the good, honorable work. I've written some of my thoughts about this topic here.

Thanks for everything!

Added by: Slawik on September 2, 2016, 1:23 am

Hi Dave,

I can only agree with you here! People feel happy about their purchase only because they have no knowledge of what a quality print is. I'm glad I could achieve such little but very useful knowledge thanks to your blog posts and videos so thank you!

There's a huge difference between imperfections and poor work. What I understand here is that some people have seen how profitable the idea was but took little to no care as to the quality of their production. They don't care about robbing their customers ($450!!!) and their intention is not to promote woodblock printmaking but only to make easy money on deluded people...

You're an artist, keep up the quality work!

Added by: K on September 2, 2016, 4:07 pm


I know it is discouraging, but the people who are buying these prints are buying the subject matter and/or a limited edition collectable, not so much a woodblock print.

You cannot make people value the quality of a print if it is the only print available of their favorite subject matter.

I think looking at how the print was advertised and leveraging some of their techniques may help your prints to reach a wider audience. Maybe then more people will come to appreciate high quality woodblock prints and force other shops to up their game :)

Added by: George Aar on September 4, 2016, 3:04 am

Personally I'm more disturbed by the subject matter. I mean, do we really need more trite, trendy, pop iconography? Certainly light and fluffy popular imagery could be handled quite satisfactorily with modern printing techniques, couldn't it? In a few years (months?) it'll all end up in the trash anyway, after the latest fad pushes this stuff out of the limelight.

Am I too much of a curmudgeonly old crank, or does this category of "art" not really deserve the effort required to produce it with traditional woodblock methods?

Added by: Karl on September 4, 2016, 11:19 am

David ,

Is this what we are talking about?

As to its quality ... looks like excellent work produced by skilled Japanese artists, master carvers, printers, and paper maker.

I'm not sure as to the questioning of its integrity or its price.


Added by: Dave on September 4, 2016, 11:44 am

Karl, I'm really not interested in hashing this out with you much further. You obviously have a different viewpoint from me; let's just let that stand. But so that other people can perhaps understand what I am seeing there, and which you apparently can't see, here is an image taken from the page you linked. I got bored drawing so many red arrows to show places where the registration is borked ...


As for the poor carving and childish colour palette, that's 'opinion' I guess ...

Added by: Jacques on September 6, 2016, 5:25 am

Probably not believing their success the people at "HOBBY STOCK Ukiyo-e Art series" have already started printing a second batch of 100 of their Hatsune Miku print. And are implicitly announcing yet another 200 copies from the same blocks, all no doubt of the same crappy quality.

I can't help but feeling sorry for the buyers of these prints ...

Added by: Dave on September 6, 2016, 5:43 am

[Note: a couple of comments intended for this page were recently trapped by the spam filter, and were thus not posted automatically. I have just 'cleaned up' the filter, and these posts have come through, but are now 'buried' above. If you have been following this discussion, please scroll back up through the comments to see ones that you have missed ... Thank you!]

Added by: Reidau on October 1, 2016, 3:05 am

As someone who has purchased from both you and others before, I can vouch more times then not I get the finished project, and open it only to think "yeah this is cool but the ones I get from Mokuhankan every month are definitely of higher quality." Why? Many of the recent series prints being put out feel inherently flat, and the color layering looks mechanical. Anyone who has had the opportunity to see actual quality ukiyoe can tell. It's like when you go to buy an engagement ring, at first everything looks great until you have them show you the difference between those in different price ranges side by side, and suddenly the one that looked fine is clearly yellow. Depth in the prints is so important and is one of the strengths of Mokuhankan.

Added by: Dave on October 1, 2016, 9:04 am

Reidau: Thank you for the flattering feedback, but I would be less than honest if I failed to mention that right now in my Inbox I have a letter from somebody who - after reading this very blog post - ordered one of our small prints to see at first hand just how 'wonderful' our prints are ... and who was less than happy with it!

I haven't got my reply to him done yet - the shop has gone nuts here at the beginning of the autumn season - but I'll perhaps be posting part of our exchange here because I think it should be interesting/instructive for others to read too.

Making things - physical things - is tough, and in this era where we are all used to 'perfection' (iPhones, etc.) it is now even tougher ...

Added by: Karl on October 2, 2016, 6:41 am

Come on David,

I dont get this bar of perfection or any standard at all when in comes to Japamnese woodcuts. Imposing such a standard, enlarging and magnifying a print to expose its flaws is creepy, and It spoils the simple enjoyment one might normally receive. This tread stems from your need to solicit sympathy, and express frustration and disappointment at someone else's succes ? Trashing the work of other Japanese artisans and its failure to meet your apprval, rather than celebrating and supporting their work... That's going to far.


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