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A Touch of Levity ...

Posted by Dave Bull on April 11, 2020 [Permalink]

Time ... well past time! ... for an update on our situation here at Mokuhankan!

First things first - I need to let our fans know that all of the Mokuhankan team are currently in a basically 'safe' position. To my knowledge, none of us have been touched personally by the virus; team members and their families have so far been spared from direct illness. And although we have reduced our employment here, all those members whose work disappeared with the closing of our Print Parties and the Asakusa shop are either young people still living at home, or they have a spouse in regular employment, or have picked up different jobs here (or a mix of those things). None of us is in any kind of desperate condition.

So, just what is our situation?

As I said, the Asakusa shop is closed, and will remain so for the foreseeable future:

Tokyo is not on 'lockdown', although of course it should be. Unlike the situation over in Canada (as I hear from my daughters), where the three levels of government are working together well (and communicating effectively), and where the general community is on board with what needs to be done to stop the spread of the virus, Japan is very poorly led and coordinated, and there is wide-spread confusion and ignorance about how best to handle the situation. (Most of the bars, hostess clubs, and restaurants in my immediate neighbourhood were trying to do 'business as usual' last night ...)

Anyway, enough of that. What's happening here now at Mokuhankan?

Although our public-facing activities (Print Parties, etc.) are now shut down, we are still publishing. It is in the nature of most of our work that it can be done perfectly well in a quiet solo environment (at home), and that is how we are proceeding. Here's a photo from last month that I took when I was opening a fresh package of washi paper; you can see below the shelf the door of the small freezer where we store our printing paper overnight.

Here's a straight shot of the door of the unit - it holds the schedule for our in-house group of printers, showing which days they intend to be here during each week. In normal times, I refer to this schedule early every morning, in order to take the necessary paper packages out of the freezer so that they will be defrosted by the time the people arrive for work a couple of hours later.

That was a nice busy week! But what does the schedule look like now? Here's a shot from this morning:

Today is Saturday, the far right-hand column. Just one lonely printer, our young Rei-chan (who lives just a few blocks away, so for her it's safe to stroll over here to work). She is working on the subscription print for May, while the rest of the building sits dark and silent ...

* * *

OK, so that's the 'sad' side to the story - our previously bustling, chaotic, and energetic shop is now shuttered and dark. But ... but ... but ... that's not the only side of course! As I write this today:

  • printer Chiharu Kawai (the other staff refer to her as 'the machine') is at her home in Nagano working through a thick batch of the Fuji at Tago Bay prints. Even before she is finished, a package with blocks and paper will arrive at her door for the next job, a batch of the May subscription print.
  • printer Yamamoto-san is over at his own home, vigorously working on another batch of our Great Waves!
  • young carver Noriko Kawasaki is busy with the set of colour blocks for the subscription print for July (referencing another well-known hit anime film)
  • ex-Print Party hostess Ayumi Shiba - famous for her self-designed/carved/printed horror prints - is busy over at a bench in the Ome workroom, making the initial run of a brand new design (based on historical ninja episodes)
  • carver Tsoi Wai Chung is scrunched over his workbench at home, where he has just finished the block set for the June subscription print, and is now splitting his time between work on the August print, and carving of the second print in the '8 Views of Cats' series - Night Rain
  • our two 'packing ladies' over in Ome are working (alternate days) in the shipping center, keeping up with the subscription print packaging, and preparing orders coming in through the website
  • two of the previous shop attendants - Rose-san and Yamada-san - are working in combination to get more Flea Market prints onto the website. He was here all day yesterday scanning prints and uploading them to an S3 bucket, from where Rose will access the images, and prepare the web pages
  • our oldest (as in 'being here the longest') printer Yasue Tsushima is working from her home out in Ome, trying to make space with her three kids all around, currently finishing up a batch of one of the Ukiyo-e Heroes prints, ready for sending over to Jed-san
  • Cameron is holed up safely away from Tokyo in his suburban home, splitting his time between customer emails, order processing for the Ome crew, and of course time with his family (expanding any minute now with his second child due soon!)
  • printer Kawai-san (Mr. K - well-known to our Print Party attendees ...) is at a new bench in his family's home out in the wilds of Chiba. He's 'warming up' with some of our small HangaClub prints before getting assigned some more complex work
  • Aoyama-san is dropping by Asakusa now and then, to work on getting more blank woodblocks prepared for our carvers. In between times, he has now begun to pick up a ball that I dropped around ten years ago, and is contacting some blade makers, with the intention of seeing if it is practical to revive our project to create our own line of tools ...
  • We. Are. Busy.

A couple of names were missing there ... our other Ayumi-san (O-hashi, formerly Miyashita) did start up a new project, just over a week ago. Recognize this image?

She had no sooner got an initial proof batch done - and I had just given her the 'go-ahead' for printing a batch - when she heard from their day-care center about a shut-down, and has had to hang up her baren again for the duration. She'll be back ...

Suga-san has been off on a rest-break for a few weeks, but last I heard she was now ready to re-start, from a bench at home. As soon as I get confirmation of that, I'll be sending her the (now completed) set of blocks for the initial print (Evening Snow) in the 8 Views of Cats set. If her initial proofing looks good, she will get busy with the initial batch!

Here was me, on a stream the other day, working on the final block in the set ...

* * *

So, with almost everybody out of here ... am I enjoying my peaceful quiet time?

Eh? Quiet? I'm at the center of all these activities, trying to keep everything moving! And that reminds me, let me dig up a photo taken here a couple of weeks back:

Who knows, perhaps this (bad) photo might turn out to have historical interest, when seen from sometime in the future (or not). This is me, together with the crew from Miyakodori, the new publisher of shin-hanga style woodblock prints (information on their new prints is here.) This is printer Shun Yamamoto, designer Shinji Tsuchimochi, and publisher Takashi Kashiwagi ... They made a visit to deliver the initial batch of the Twilight at Nihonbashi print. Although the publishing environment is obviously not so 'healthy' at the moment, they are going to press ahead with more designs. We'll let you know when more arrive ...

Once the 8 Cats block that you just saw was completed, I got started right away on another project that can't be delayed - cutting the block set for the Patreon Chibies - the pair of prints that will be sent to supporters of our Patreon project over the coming months:

As with all the previous Patreon Chibies, this one was designed by long-time friend printmaker John Amoss. One of the pair is always about traditional printmaking, and the other one always has the concept 'support' hidden in it somewhere. I'm busy with the keyblock now, and of course will then move on with the colour blocks. Once the set is ready, I'll see if Yamamoto-san (in the photo above) wants a nice simple job to keep him busy for a week or so (we need a lot of copies of these!)

In the middle of all this ... I am trying to block out some time for a couple of days work on a proofing project - a project that has been bubbling along in the background for a couple of years now (years!). Finally, the set of blocks for a certain Octopus design are pretty much ready for final proofing ...

* * *

So ... why would I have titled this blog update 'A Touch of Levity'?

Well, although some of you might laugh at the shape of my lunch-time muffins, they don't taste all that bad! (And they sure disappear quickly!)

But it wasn't that kind of 'levity' I was thinking of. It's because of a scene from this morning's live Twitch stream. (Preserved here for a couple of weeks).

Regular viewers know that on those days when I add the extra 'outside view' camera, they might be treated to a view of the famous 'Levitating Lamppost of Asakusa'!


See you next time!




Added by: julio on April 11, 2020

Glad you and the staff are all doing well, or at least safe. Chicago is still peaking and we all have been working from home now for four weeks. Here most stores are closed except for gas stations, home centers & restaurants doing deliveries or curb-side pickups. Best to you and Mokuhankan and stay safe !

Added by: Jacques on April 11, 2020

Great to hear that everybody is genki at Mokuhankan. Of course I recognize the image Ayumi-san is working on: It's the Fuyu print in your Beauties of Four Seasons series, one of the nicest and most beautiful prints you ever made!

Added by: karen on April 12, 2020

I warms my heart to hear news of the people of Mokuhankan! I'm glad everyone is staying safe, and not surprised (but still 嬉しい!) to hear about all the core activities that are still underway. Thanks for the pithy post with so many details!


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