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A Tale of Two Birdies ...

Posted by Dave Bull on August 10, 2020 [Permalink]

It has been quite a while since I made a longish blog post here on the Conversations chatting about our 'situation'. Around a decade ago, I used to post here quite frequently when I was pondering possible futures for a publishing venture, and putting such posts together helped me sort out my own thoughts.

I think it's time to try another one … because to tell the truth, I feel like I’m standing in a little clearing in the middle of a vast forest, with a bunch of different paths leading off in different directions, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out which way to go. All my usual methods of making an important decision - spreadsheets, lists of + and - points, you name it - are failing me this time. There is just so much data on the table that I'm stymied.

So this is not so much to ask the 'reader' to make my decision for me, but just another method of trying to clarify my thoughts. By the time I get to the bottom of the page here, perhaps it will be more clear which path I should take …

(Another thing to mention: I'll be describing some 'problems' here, but none of this is to imply that we are asking for 'help', or that we need money, etc. etc. We're actually holding on quite well at the moment, so please don’t worry for us. This is just about … decisions.)

* * *

We should perhaps run-through a bit of background, for those who are 'new' here.

I came to live in Japan 34 years ago (in 1986), with a very tiny bit of knowledge about printmaking, and the vague idea that I would like to 'make prints' here. The first few years were a whirlwind of other work: teaching English, making toys, translating, family time, etc. etc., but after some practice (and a couple of months at the Yoshida Studio watching Komatsu-san the printer there), I managed to get some prints made that were accepted in the marketplace, and hung out my 'Printmaker' shingle at the beginning of 1989, with the introduction of the '100 Poets' series of prints.

That series provided my living for ten years, until its completion in 1998. Along the way I held annual exhibitions of the work, and sold the prints through subscription only. This was the end of the 'bubble era' in Japan, and - although I hadn't known it at the time - I was just squeaking by under the wire. Consumers were still consuming back in those days, and I found enough subscribers to make a small but comfortable living.

At the time the series finished, I felt that I had had a fairly decent 'apprenticeship', and then took on a five-year project to make a different sort of print. These were still to be completely traditional Japanese reproductions, but the series was designed not so much to be something that would appeal to a specific group of collectors (as with the previous poetry series), but instead, to be a series of 50 prints (10 per year) that would provide me with an extremely strict and rigorous training period - each print selected for the chance to provide me with a chance to learn some particular technique. I chose prints of a delicacy and complexity that had not been attempted in the post-war period. (It wasn't so much that there weren't any workers capable of making them, it was that publishers simply assumed that in those 'decaying' years of traditional woodblock printmaking, no market would exist for such things …) Anyway, long story short, I made the 50 prints, and by doing so, learned a staggering amount about the technical side of the old Japanese prints. For many of the images in the series, I had absolutely no idea how to do the work, and when I asked other workers in the field, they too were unable to help. But a combination of endless trial and error, and long and deep study of the older prints in my collection, got me through.

All these prints were created by myself alone. I traced from originals, carved the blocks, did all the printing (usually about 200 copies of each design), and then all the rest of the work associated with publishing: creating packaging, ancillary materials, all the shipping, and of course promoting and running the exhibitions. There was no thought in my mind at all to 'share' the work with others. Part way along, I did hire local ladies to do the final packaging and shipping to the Post Office.

This general pattern continued for a few more years, in the same vein - creating the concepts for a number of print series, and then building them from scratch. Part-way along, I had the chance - due to a 'fire sale' - to purchase my own home, a 4-story building in Ome, a suburb of Tokyo, with plenty of room to both live and work, and located in a very pleasant rural area. Life was good.

We arrive at 2010 I had become 59, and was thinking about what to do next. It had been during the 100 Poets series that my children had 'grown up' and left, and with my partner also leaving back then, I had been living alone - quite happily - for around 15 years. But being faced with becoming 60 made me stop and think about where to take things from here. I saw no problem at all with continuing along in the same vein, as I was thoroughly enjoying the print-making work, which gave me the best of both worlds: I received tremendous satisfaction from the very high-quality work I was doing, but yet had no end of challenges to work on, because the standards set back in 'the old days' were so stupendously high that I would never actually reach them. But how much longer would I be able to keep this up? And what would happen when I eventually became not-so-capable of doing high-quality work?

I remember this time period vividly; some evenings I would stroll back and forth on the quiet street in front of my home, going over the + and - of the various ways that I could go. Basically, I was thinking of two options:

  • stay the course. Simply keep on making prints, enjoying life there in my home, getting 'out and about' to Tokyo on the occasion of the annual exhibition. A quiet, peaceful life … for as long as I would be able to manage it. After that, who knows?
  • blow things open. While I still had the energy for it, hire some young people to train in the field. Build up their skills, and start publishing prints - carved and printed by others - instead of doing it all myself. It would be an insane, and insanely expensive, and probably hopeless endeavour, but try and establish a workshop/publishing company, to 'bring beautiful woodblock prints to the masses' :-) It would be the absolute opposite of a quite and peaceful life, but - assuming we could make it fly - the presence of such an organization could presumably provide the 'support' environment for my own declining years. As I got weaker, I could just work quietly in one corner of the workroom somewhere, while the normal work of the organization went on around me.

As I said, I paced and paced and paced. The little birdie on one shoulder yelled in my ear, "Are you crazy? You have the perfect life here! People everywhere would kill to have what you have! How can you even think of turning this thing upside down?" And of course from the opposite shoulder came the response, "Dave, you are dying on the vine here; you're forgetting how to talk to people, you are visibly losing energy, running down month by month. What you need is to get back in the swim! You've spent all these years learning how to make prints, now you have a responsibility to make sure that knowledge is passed on! Don't be like Ito-san and the other guys, only talking about their work when a TV company sticks a camera in their face … C'mon, let's get busy!"

Well, as we all know by now, the 'Devil' birdie won the battle. (Or was it actually the other one that was the 'devil'; I'll never know …) In the summer of 2011 I reached out to the community around me, spread the word that I was hiring, and collected a few people to get started. I had (and still have) the certainty that one does not need any kind of inherent special skill set to do this work - that any person with 'normal' general abilities can become a competent worker in this field. What kind of work were we planning? I had what I though was a genius idea; because it would take some months for these beginners to build up their skills to the point of being able to produce 'real' woodblock prints, I proposed that we would start by making kakegami - printed wrappers for packaging. I went to a local shop that sold snacks, small cakes, etc. and arranged with the owner that we would provide hand-printed wrapping paper for his products. His customers had a choice at the checkout - purchase the edibles with the normal printed wrapper, or pay 100 yen extra and get a wonderful hand-made woodblock print as the wrapper. I was convinced that this would be an option that many customers would select - it would make the gift they were giving seem a bit 'exclusive'. In addition to this basic work, our group of trainees used many of my older blocks to make practice runs, building their skills bit by bit.

We seemed to be up and running. Or at least up and walking. The ladies here for training (at this point all our trainees were female) were enthusiastic about the work, and there was a happy and friendly mood in our workshop. But we had a big problem, and it was one that I should perhaps have foreseen when I started the whole thing. I was the only instructor; the only person who could show these people what to do. For each and every job they started, I had to set them up, show them what to do, organize the paper, the blocks, etc. and etc. I was turning out to be a full-time workshop manager/instructor, and my own printmaking work - the current subscription series (The Arts of Japan) - began to fall farther and farther behind schedule. Instead of issuing a print per month, I was only getting one out the door every couple of months, and then even more slowly. And that was our entire income! The wrapping paper for the gift snack packages? We never even sold a single sheet. Other print sales? We did sell a few prints from our website, to overseas friends and customers, but very very few. The money ran out. It would have been sometime in May or June of 2012 that I let everybody know that we were done; I would be able to pay them one more month, but that was it. Our little experiment was over.

Or was it? A few weeks before this, I had received an email out of the blue, entitled 'A crazy idea!', from a young illustrator over in the US … Jed Henry. He had an idea for some woodblock prints, and was searching for a workshop that he could commission to get them made. There really wasn't anything I could help him with; my staff certainly weren't at a skill level to even consider the creation of large-scale modern works of the sort he was proposing, we were broke, and on his side, he had no resources either. It looked like a non-starter for me, and I introduced him to another workshop here in Tokyo, who prepared some quotations for him. But part-way along during our email interchanges, he sent over an image of one of his new designs, a parody of video game characters racing across a bridge in wheeled carts … I showed it to our ladies, and they were all adamant, "That is so cool! Can we get to make that?" The little birdies went to work again: "Dave, just pack this up and go back to what you had; don't keep beating your head against this thing." And on the other shoulder: "Dave, this is the big chance! Your stupid little wrapping paper didn't go anywhere … time to think big!" Well, the rest … (in a picture-perfect example of this phrase!) … is history. Literally. Our Ukiyo-e Heroes prints are now not only spread all over this planet, but are in museum collections too. And in the future, when they come to write the history of the dramatic revival of traditional Japanese printmaking in the early years of the 21st century, a major part of the story will be … our prints.

(Thank you for your patience … we are now nearly at the point of today's exercise …)

The explosion of the initial Kickstarter campaign for the Ukiyo-e Heroes (running just over 1/3 of a million dollars) certainly put us on a more stable footing, at least for the short term. We hired more printers to help us with the flood of work, and all of our people were busy with all the increased business that now came our way (for all of our prints) due to the avalanche of publicity across many forms of social media. The Kickstarter campaign hadn't been over for even a month before we announced that Ukiyo-e Heroes was moving into another field - subscription sets. This hadn't come from Jed, but was something we initiated on our side. I was trying to look beyond the initial burst of popularity, to find a way to make or business stable in the long run, and realized that the model I had used personally for decades - issuing prints in subscription sets - was perfectly amenable to these new 'pop' designs as well. We began the Chibi Heroes series that fall, and have created another new series every year since then, moving out into designs of a more general interest in the past couple of years with our 'Japan Journey' prints. Popular prints come and go, but having a steady and generally stable base of subscribers has been a huge factor in our ability to keep this business going. When you include my personal printmaking years, this organization has been kept alive by subscriptions for over 30 years …

We move ahead two years, to the spring of 2014. Life is good. The ladies in our workshop (no longer being called 'trainees') are all busy working on a mix of prints: Ukiyo-e Heroes, the new subscription prints, subscription back numbers, and of course all manner of prints from our general catalogue. At this point we are still - even two years after the end of the Kickstarter campaign - slowly digging our way through the fulfilment of those orders, and Jed has been sending us a constant stream of new design ideas. And the bank account is looking good too. One thing that has become a problem is commuting - both time and expense. All of this activity is taking place way out in the suburbs of Tokyo in my Ome home/workshop. We have rented part of the building next door, and basically have enough room, but a two-hour commuting trip (each way!) is taking its toll on the ladies, not to mention our finances (here in Japan, employers pay all commuting expenses for their staff). I also have a situation where not all the ladies are quite as skilled as the others, and I'm struggling to think of alternative work that these members could do. I have a conversation with my friend the carver Asaka-san one day at his print-making school in Tokyo, and drop the idea that I'm considering the idea of looking for a place to rent in Tokyo where some of our people could work, saving huge amounts of commuting time. He calls me back a couple of days later, "Get down here; something I need to show you …" I get on the train, and he shows me a scruffy old grey building on a street in Asakusa. He knows the landlady; she's had trouble renting it because the upper floors are decrepit and rat-infested, and the tenant downstairs is a non-paying deadbeat. I'm looking for a workroom, Asaka-san is thinking of moving his print school, and another young lady he knows is scouting locations for a shop. Three people, three floors … Hmm …

Again with the birdies "Dave, did you hear what he said about rat-infested? And a business partnership with two other people? A dead-beat tenant? A two-hour train ride from your home; it'll be your turn to make that trip … Get serious; let's get out of here!" … and ... "Oh my god, Dave. It's the biggest brass ring you've ever seen in your life! Grab it! Grab it!" … Chirp Chirp … one ear and the other. I threw my hat in the ring, and the three of us sat down to work out some details. First to drop out was the other young lady; her group wasn't willing (or perhaps couldn't afford) to take the 'risk' on this place. OK, I can perhaps handle having two floors of the place … A couple of weeks later Asaka-san also dropped out; he had decided to stick with his current location near Shinjuku. For Dave, it was now 'all or nothing'. An entire three-story building in Asakusa, one floor of which was occupied by a tenant who wouldn't move, and the other two floors by rats … The negotiations went on for a few weeks, and I found myself sitting in a real estate office with my personal seal at hand … and lease papers in front of me. Crazy or not, I'll never really know, but - as you all know - I put my seal on the papers, and away we went.

The deadbeat tenant downstairs turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If we had gone for all three floors at the beginning, it would have bankrupted us. But the way it turned out, by opening our workroom (and a tiny adjunct shop) on the second floor first, then taking the third floor a year later, then down to the 1st floor two years later once the landlady was finally able to get him extracted, we were able to grow our reputation and expand our business perfectly in step with the growing rent burden. By the time we opened the downstairs shop, the Documentary video on our work was playing on airlines worldwide, and the wonderful publicity from this, combined with our growing YouTube presence, brought wonderful crowds through the door. I got into a period of severe time/work pressure in early 2017, but was able to bring that under control by going to Patreon to ask for help to hire a person to take the pyramid of paperwork off my desk (welcome, Cameron!), and since then, life has been good. 2019 was an astonishing year of production, of achievements, and of day after day of hilarious fun together with fans and friends in the Print Party room and the shop. I rarely ever got home out to Ome, and 'lived in a suitcase' here on the floor in one room of the Asakusa building, but who cares when you're having fun.

And then … 2020 ...

We shut down quite early, at least compared to other shops around us. It was clear that our Print Parties were exactly the kind of event not to be holding in the new environment: people from all over the world gathering in a small room, talking closely to each over the workbench … We were all getting kind of nervous about this, and I pulled the plug in early March. In 2019 the Asakusa shop had provided 43% of our overall income, and overnight that now dropped to 0. We shifted gears on our online presence; I quickly worked on the website to (finally!) make it mobile friendly, and with the help of some 'campaigns' that we cooked up ("If you can't come to Japan - Japan will come to you!") we began to increase internet sales to make up. But no sooner had we done this than the Post Office hit us hard, by shutting down acceptance of packages to most destinations (Europe, US, Australia) where our customers resided. A number of those shutdowns (including the US and Australia) are still in place, and we are re-routing packages around the globe with (very expensive) private carriers. Once we got the delivery issues basically sorted out, the subscription business recovered somewhat, and that's where we now stand. Our printers and carvers are all working at home - it's all very solitary work anyway - so the basic production end of our business is stable. We're running at around half of last year's revenue, but nobody here is complaining; we're just barely breaking even, but we are hanging on.

But. In a few days I have a meeting with the landlady. Our core lease on the Asakusa building is up at the end of this month, and I have two options: put my seal down for another three years, or cancel out …

* * *

I wanted to put that (long) history down, and get it all fresh in my mind again, because the decision I have to make this week is really just an extension of one major thread in that history - choosing between the two little birdies, who always seem to deliver the same messages:

"Dave, this is your chance to get back to the beautiful and peaceful quiet life in your workroom by the river! You're 70 next year, did you forget? Normal people are, you know, retired by now … I know you wouldn't just sit and vegetate - you would find any number of projects to get involved with (perhaps printmaking among them, perhaps not). Make more videos, maybe some music, there's the river … C'mon, this is your chance for an honourable 'withdrawal' from this frantic race you are running! You gave it your best shot; nobody could criticize you."

"Give up now? After coming this far? You just proudly posted to the staff members about the four new babies on the team this spring; are you forgetting about the nearly 30 employees here who are now (some more than others) depending on that paycheck? And the fans? The daily emails from people who are looking forward 'one day' to their chance to visit Mokuhankan? "

OK, hang on there, Mr. Birds … just like any number of people watching the live streams over the past couple of weeks, you've jumped a little bit ahead of things here. I'm not considering shutting the organisation down. We have people working, we're making products in demand by society, in our own little corner of the world, we're 'important'. My problem is more specific - what to do with the lease on the Asakusa building?

Let's look at it coldly:

  • the 1st floor is now dead. There is no point in opening just for Japanese customers, we don't have any of those. We built our business model aimed at international visitors, and are now paying the price for that intense specialisation.
  • the 2nd floor is also not being used. Cameron has taken his 'office' home; the central section is storage of boxes; the front tatami room is where Dave crashes at night.
  • the 3rd floor: Dave is doing sizing in the rear area; the central area is dead storage; the front room - the printer's room - is used twice a week by Ishikawa-san, who prefers coming here to working at home. All the other printers are at home.
  • our current business model - print manufacture targeted at online and subscription sales - doesn't need this building at all. We could do it all just as well by 'retreating' to Ome, and having everybody work from home, as they mostly are already.
  • so just when are the visitors likely to return? Well, your analysis is as valid as mine, but I can't see even a dribble of people coming back here within a couple of years. In places like the US, where the virus is running rampant, this next winter is going to be crazy; they are just going to keep plowing on until they reach a basic social immunity through deaths and recoveries; that's going to take a couple of years. In most other societies - places where they had a lockdown, and are now in the whack-a-mole mode - an organic immunity will basically never arrive. Vaccine? I find it hard to be too optimistic about this. As much as I personally would love to be immunized against this thing, we don't have such a vaccine in place for most types of flu, nor for even such a thing as a 'cold', which is a very similar problem. It's beginning to look as though we are basically going to have to live with this thing, perhaps for ever.
  • if that does indeed turn out to be the case, then the years of free-and-easy tourism are gone. And Japan - anyway kind of paranoid about foreigners at the best of times - is simply not going to allow tourists in for any foreseeable future.
  • so if, if, I'm even partially correct on this, it makes no sense whatsoever to keep our lease. If I could feel even remotely confident that people would be returning in 'a while', we could hunker down, tighten our belts, and hang on here keeping things in storage, ready to come alive again once we got the chance.
  • I've heard time and again over the past few weeks, "It would be such a shame to close that place! You built it up so wonderfully!" But all that effort and expenditure are 'sunk costs'. They are history, and irrelevant to the decision facing me, which is concerned with one thing only - the future prospects for this facility.
  • It's a question really, of the timetable. If I thought it would take 'about a year or so' before people came back, I would clearly stay, endure a tight time, and then be ready. 'Two years or so …' is a bit of a tougher call, but yeah, I'm a patient guy; I could handle that. But 'indefinite' … No thanks; I'm out of here …

OK, that part was easy, but aren't there any factors opposing that viewpoint?

  • the workroom upstairs is more than just a workroom. Over the past few years it has become a place where so much knowledge and experience has been passed around. People have worked there, learned there, and have become members of our 'team', and that's a real thing, not just business jargon. If we close this building, and all work at home, that would be the end of our future as an actual 'workshop', with an identity, and as a learning facility.
  • the shop downstairs is (was) clearly more than just a shop. I saw this day after day after day during 2019. My own bench is near the front door, and I would hear it open and look up. When a 'normal' person walks into a 'normal' shop, they have a sort of neutral facial expression, as they look around to see what's there. I wouldn't see this. I would see wide-open eyes, a bright face, and a palpable sense of "Wow! I'm here! At last, I'm here!" Clearly - and with the huge help of YouTube - we have built something special in this funky old building in Asakusa.
  • and that too - being in Asakusa, near Sensoji and Kaminari-mon - has become an important part of our organizational 'identity'. To remove this - and become a faceless online business - would rip a huge part out of the heart of this company.

The meeting with the landlady is this coming Thursday …

Birds … birds … one in each ear …

* * *

OK, the situation as described above is just as it is; the situation seems binary, stay or leave. But what if we climb 'out of the box'?

Some facts:

The money we pay to the landlady each month is of course 'rent'. It is a clear expense for the company, is deducted against income, and results in a loss of equity each and every month that has to be recouped with our business activities.

I should mention, by the way, that we are in no real position to ask her for any substantial reduction in the amount of the rent. I am not free to give you the exact amounts, but I can tell you that the monthly amounts we have been paying for the past six years have been substantially below market rates for this area. We were able to negotiate that originally because of two things:

  • we took the building on an 'as is' basis, promising that we would handle most renovation/maintenance on our own nickel. Rats? Our problem. Squat toilets? Our problem. Over the years, we invested quite heavily in cleaning the place up and making it liveable. She's quite happy now, with all those renovations in place, but she did 'pay' for them, by not taking market rent for the building.
  • she has a family history in the woodblock world. Her grandfather ran a minor print publishing house, and the family has a long tradition of being involved in this work. She was over the moon that we were able to step in six years ago and take on the challenge of getting this building into shape, and turning it into a major center of print publishing. She likes us.

Another point to mention is that she does not own the land. All the land in this entire area is owned by Sensoji (the major temple in the area). She owns two things: the concrete and steel structure, and the right to have a building here. She pays the temple rent/lease for the occupancy right, of course.

The building itself is now long past its 'sell by' date. It is decaying, was badly cracked (and subsequently patched) in the Fukushima earthquake, and leaks everywhere. One more relatively strong earthquake, and it would quite possibly be condemned by the authorities.

The common pattern for reconstructing such a building is for a major real estate develop to buy a group of them together, tear them all down, and put up something modern (like the hotel across the street from us, which used to be a row of small shops …). That is probably not possible here, because the owner on one side (who was born in his building) rebuilt it just a few years ago, and the owner on the other side has just done a major renovation, clearly intending to use it for quite some time.

What about reconstructing just this building? Very very difficult. New building codes require that all buildings in this part of town are set back from their properly lines by 50cm. On every side. Our building, which is currently built right to the properly line, in the old fashion, is only 3.5 meters wide. The new code would reduce that to 2.5 meters. In addition, all stairways must be of a modern wide (safe) construction, and of course modern accessibility regulations require an elevator, wide bathrooms, etc. etc.. All these things chew away at the floor area, leaving perhaps something just around 60% of our current floor space.

Alternative Realities

1) Suppose we asked her to sell it to us … and suppose … just for a 'thought experiment' … she agreed.

Let me wave a magic wand for a minute and assume that I could arrange some kind of financing:

  • our payments from that point on (loans, etc.) would no longer be an 'expense', totally lost; they would simply be a transfer of one kind of asset (cash in the bank) to another (equity).
  • maintenance issues? Just as they are now … on our nickel.
  • land-use payment to the temple. I have no idea how much this is, but it must have been manageable for her to pay from out of our rent payments to her …
  • taxes. Again, I don't yet know how much these are, but again, she has been paying this from our rent … it would seem manageable.


  • our future would be in our own hands. All (without exception) of the older publishing companies in our field here in Japan own their own property. This is a huge advantage, especially in lean years ...
  • as mentioned above, we would be building equity month by month. I did this with my home in Ome, moving from a rented apartment in the next town to my own home, long ago fully paid for after a ten year loan period (with payments that hadn't been much more than my previous rent).

Risks, negatives:

  • we would still be faced with the fact of the age of the building, and of the need to reconstruct it. It's a double punch; pay once to buy the place, then once we have it, pay again to rebuild it …
  • I'm 70 next year. Do I really want to go into this kind of debt situation, quite possibly for the rest of my life? To what end? "Finally, it's mine, all mine! … good-bye …" If I had a clear successor(s) here, it might make sense, but that's not the case …
  • she almost certainly won't consider this. She is elderly, as am I. She is receiving a steady and stable revenue from the property. The heavy potential reconstruction costs for any purchaser constitute a huge 'discount' on the sale value of her asset; the structure itself has a negative value (due to the heavy costs required to tear it down). It has value to her only for as long as the rent stream can continue (fingers crossed about the timing of the next strong Tokyo/Tokai earthquake …).

2) Suppose I approached her with the idea of establishing a new company together; a 'holding company' for the property.

  • as her share, she brings the building and the land lease
  • as my share, I bring funding for reconstruction (hello, crowdfunding?)
  • 1/2 1/2?
  • once this is set up, the holding company immediately - while the pandemic is keeping people away - undertakes a reconstruction. We lose floor area - as mentioned above - but we partially counteract that by going higher. We have three floors; next door (newer construction) has four in the same height. The hotel across the street has six. Hmm ….
  • a couple of years from now - just in time for people to come back????? - Mokuhankan re-opens, in its own custom-built facility.

Mokuhankan (the publisher) would of course still need to pay rent (to the holding company), which would make monthly disbursement to her as her share of the profit, and to me as the other half investor.

Why would she do this? Instead of owning the whole thing outright, as now, with all the revenue and all the risk (earthquake), she would be half owner of a business 'worth' double(?) the value. The earthquake risk would disappear, and the property would be set for another generation of use (for her inheritors, and mine …)

3) She says 'no' to 1), and 'no' to 2) … so any more bright ideas?

Thinking again, it seems to me that the main barrier to us being able to keep this facility, is that it is sitting silent. So far, I'm simply thinking of it as a woodblock print shop for foreigners, which is what it looks like right now (although pretty dusty …)

Our current situation does not allow us to use the space for anything other than the description in the lease, "… the manufacture and sale of woodblock prints, along with ancillary activities, etc. etc." But why stick to that? I'm sure that as part of the upcoming lease renegotiation, she would agree to anything reasonable. Maybe we should think about going back to this neighbourhood's roots and set up something else … Hell, a couple of doors down is a strip club. This very building has previously been a jewellery shop, a ramen restaurant, an upscale boar-meat restaurant, and (pre-war in a different structure) the famous 野口食堂 … Anything goes!

But, you know, there's a pandemic … and even though our shop is closed and we have no Print Parties, I'm actually run off my feet these days with coordinating everybody's work. Start a new business from scratch, and make it profitable? Like, how on earth am I going to do that?

* * *

So there we have it ... basically a 'brain dump' of many of the things/thoughts buzzing through my mind over the past few days. One bird against the other; head against heart; responsibilities vs self-centredness ...

I welcome any thoughts/suggestions/commiserations/etc. in the comments below ... Thanks for reading this far! :~)




Added by: Stu on August 10, 2020

I think that while your option #2 seems the most risky, it is also the one that I think would be most fun (and engage your enthusiasm the most).

Option #1 seems intriguing, especially in this era of low-interest rate loans (at least in some countries --- not quite sure about Japan).

Plus, didn't you transition from being a proprietorship to being a company? That might make the (personal) risk on either of the two options quite a bit less.

As for your 'fallback plan' (option #3), perhaps she's willing to defer the decision for only 1 more year, at the current lease rate, rather than ask for another 3 years. It's quite possible that some foreign tourism will reappear by next fall (hopefully!!), and this might give you more time to explore crowdfunding of a holding company, or other options.

Added by: Jacques on August 11, 2020

What stands out for me in your long long and interesting two-birdies post is what you write about your landlady: that she likes you and what you are doing in her building, and is very sympathetic to your course.

So why not go into the meeting with her with a completely open mind-set, tell her all the considerations and options you also shared with us in your post today about the possible future of Mokuhankan, and then simply wait and listen to what she has to say?

I'm sure she will be willing to listen to you, and who knows she will also come up and propose some kind of solution that is suitable and agreeable to the both of you, maybe even one that you haven't considered yet?

Anyway: good luck with your meeting next Thursday!

Added by: Noah on August 12, 2020

(Long-time Patreon supporter, first-time commenter here.)

I firmly believe your projections regarding vaccination and tourism revival are overly pessimistic: Precisely because the virus has hit the world economy so hard, governments and other entities are pouring an unprecedented amount of funding into vaccine development – this is wildly different from any flu/cold-related situations, or pandemics in the past (vaccine development has seen some amazing innovations recently). Literally hundreds of pharmaceutical companies and research labs are working on different approaches, some of which are in advanced clinical trials with enchouraging progress. The long timescales on which vaccines are usually developend aren't relevant in this envionment.

It seems very unlikely that it will take more than two years for tourism (and the economy) to rebound significantly – perhaps not quite to where it was in 2019, but close enough.

Alas, this isn't an expert opinion: I'm no more qualified to judge this situation than you are, merely reaching a different conclusion than you based on what I assume is similar information. :/

Anyway, the best of luck with your meeting on Thursday!

Added by: Alexandre F. on August 12, 2020

Option #2 certainly feels like the one that would give you a good chance of accomplishing your long-term goals. Youd be more able to have a cafe and a small print museum, and your print shop could become more efficient. It feels more « future-proof ». European tourism may come back next year, american... not so much. Good luck Dave, you have made some really good choices so far.

Added by: Matt on August 13, 2020

Getting into any long term deals or expensive projects in this climate isn't a good idea, the worlds economy and travel industry have been crushed. Based on your description of the building, the regulations for a new one, and your revenue, I don't think its worth it.

Finding a place with enough room for you and a few printers to work and is cheaper should be something that you consider.

Waiting until next Spring / Summer tourism or even a full year is also an option if it work out financially.

Added by: Todd on August 14, 2020

Well, now I’m dying to know what happened at your meeting. I will certainly miss visiting your shop on my layovers in Tokyo, but I wish you the best!

Added by: tribas on August 27, 2020

Hey, Dave!

its hard to contribute, you seam to have all possible cenarious figured out. But, you never know...I'd say listen to her, maybe shes got an ideia.

Looks to me all we need is third, less contrasting, bird. I do believe he's on his way.

Looking forward to hearing from you. Catch you on the next stream. Be safe and good luck

Added by: Kenny on September 14, 2020

Hi Dave and other readers,

How about reducing it to two or even one floor? This could reduce your costs, while it opens up the possibility for the landlady to receive more for that third (and/or first/second) floor.

Having a business be in a location has value in many ways, so turning it into a 'from home'-only business, doesn't seem a good idea.

To that end, have you looked at other cheaper locations? It might seem improbable, but in these times not unlikely to find something.

Being more of an online business, maybe being in on a shopping street is not that important? And being in a place with better logistics is?

Hopefully these questions help.




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