Traditional Crafts of TokyoTraditional Crafts of Tokyo 東京の伝統工芸品

Edo Moku-hanga

(Woodblock Prints)

Edo Moku-hanga Photo

Express it more vividly than reality.
Woodblock print technique in Japan, has been growing for about 1200 years, and developed itself into Ukiyoe-hanga (Ukiyoe woodblock print) in the 17th century. Ukiyoe was widely accepted among ordinary people as one of typical popular cultures of the Edo period through Edo Moku-hanga (woodblock prints)technique, in which the pictures of famous painters, including Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige, were engraved on woodcuts, and they were printed on paper. Ukiyoe is popular as a symbol of Japonisme abroad, and due to this, many cheap machine print editions are circulated. However, it is only Edo Moku-hanga technique that can create true Ukiyoe and convey the Ukiyoe’s true appeal. Production processes are executed by Horishi (carvers) and Surishi (printers) in division of labor, and the highest-grade Washi, called Echizen-kizu-hoshoshi, is used. Multicolor print is possible for more than hundred colors, and a Horishi carves appropriate number of woodcuts according to the number of colors. Paints give different impressions when looked at and printed on Washi. That is why a Surishi checks the Washi texture that varies according to temperature and humidity, and prints different colors in layers. The true charms of Ukiyoe are reproduced in our time, and are depicting the realistic feeling more vividly than reality with subtle shades, created by the skilled craftsmen’s color sense and the power adjustment of a Baren (rubbing pad).
Main Areas of Manufacture Taito Ward, Arakawa Ward, Bunkyo Ward
Designation/ Certification Date December 17th, 1993 (Tokyo Certification)
March 9th, 2007 (National Certification)
Traditionally Used Raw Materials Woodblocks (cherry wood), Japanese traditional paper (predominately made from paper mulberry), color pigments (black, vermilion, red, green, purple, indigo, pink, gray)

Traditional Technologies and Techniques

  1. Artist (drawing of art)
    The original drawing, known as a hanshita, is a simple draft on thin paper which is created using black ink only. In that multiple colors will be applied to the artwork one at a time during the printing process, one copy of the hanshita is required for each color to be used. Once a hanshita drawing is created for each color, those areas to which that color is to be applied when printing are indicated using a light vermilion shading. Such areas shall remain raised (uncarved during the carving process).
  2. Carver (woodblock carving)
    A hanshita drawing is pasted to a woodblock and the woodblock is then placed on the carving table. A carver's knife is used to carve the picture from the inner portion moving outward (starting at the center). Finally a special orientation reference mark known as a kento is engraved into the block. The kento helps align each individual woodblock during the printing process. The carving process is repeated in order to produce a carved woodblock for each of the colors to be printed. The color-specific hanshita are used during trial printing.
  3. Printer (application of colors)
    Color pigments dissolved in water are applied to the surface of a carved woodblock using brushes. Paper is then placed face-down over the inked woodblock, and a disk-like hand tool called a baren is used to apply pressure to and rub the reverse side of the paper. The color-specific woodblocks created during trial printing are used to apply colors one at a time.

History and Characteristics

The Moku-Hanga (woodblock print) has an especially long history in Japan. Among the artifacts of the Shosoin Treasure House in Nara Prefecture, there is a picture of foreign origin that depicts such printing processes being employed to print designs on clothing approximately 1,200 years ago.

Furthermore, a woodblock print known as Hyakumanto Darani ("One Million Pagodas and Dharani Prayers") was also produced at around the same time.

Woodblock printing first achieved general acceptance when the nation entered the Edo Period (1603-1868), as Hishikawa Moronobu (1631-1694) began to produce ukiyo-e prints. At around the same time, the separation of production skills into those of the artist, the wood carver and the printer also occurred.

Initially only simple prints were produced (works printed from a single woodblock using black ink only). Later on, a method was devised for using vermilion in order to create color prints called tan-e. The use of more complex colors became established as time passed. From around the Tempo Era (1716-1735), beautiful hand-painted pictures called urushi-e (lacquer pictures) and beni-e (rouge-red pictures) began to be sold in Edo's markets.

Around the end of the Kanpo Era (1741-1743), a method of printing two-tone pictures in red and green was developed. Then, in the second year of the Meiwa Period (1765), Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) developed nishiki-e (brocade pictures). This represented a high-water mark for woodblock printing, no-longer was it a case of printing in just two or three colors. Rather, polychrome printing in 10 or more colors had arrived on the scene.

Woodblock printing techniques then approached completion as artists such as Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) and Sharaku (details unknown) created prints that were both graphic and offered elaborate expressionism. Moreover, at the end of the Edo Period, the landscapes of artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) demonstrated thoroughly the colorful nature of woodblock prints.

Ukiyo-e hanga (ukiyo-e prints) represent a form of artistic expressionism in which an artist, a woodblock carver and a printer come together to work as one. The artist draws the original drawing on a thin piece of washi (traditional Japanese paper). Using a carver's knife, the carver then carves the drawing that has been affixed to a woodblock (usually cherry wood). The carver repeats this process for each color to be printed. The work is then completed by the efforts of the printer who sets the paper to the inked woodblock and then uses a baren to apply pressure to it.

Please note that modern creative hanga prints in which a single person completes all production processes are not considered to be part of the traditional Moku-Hanga (woodblock print) craft.

Contact Details

Manufacturing Area Cooperative Name Tokyo Traditional Wood-Block Print Craft Association
Address 2-4-19 Suido, Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo 112-0005
TEL 03-3830-6780