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Painters: How to Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo(1)

Updated: May 21

Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo

Ukiyo-e, a comprehensive art form, comes to life through the collaboration of three artisans: the "Eshi (painters)" who sketch the design, the "Horishi (carvers)" who carve the wooden blocks for each color, and the "Surishi (printers)" who layers the colors onto the washi paper using a baren. Alongside them stands the publisher, the "Hanmoto," who oversees and plans the entire production process. In our previous discussion, we delved into the role of the publisher.

Today, let's explore the "painters." The artisans responsible for creating the sketches, known as the "Eshi," include renowned figures such as Kitagawa Utamaro, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Hiroshige, and Sharaku, among others. During the Edo period, the "Hanmoto" commissioned these artists based on the prevailing trends and preferences of the time.

Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo

The Subjects of Ukiyo-e Range, from Kabuki Actors and Beauties to Contemporary Topics such as Epidemics

During the early stages of ukiyo-e, subjects primarily included kabuki actors and beautiful women from the pleasure quarters, catering to the tastes of the common people. Over time, the themes expanded to encompass landscapes, flora, and fauna. Landscape prints featured scenic views of specific locations and depictions of travelers' experiences along the highways. Notably, Utagawa Hiroshige's "The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō" exemplifies the latter, capturing the sentiments of common folk on their journeys.

Additionally, ukiyo-e also addressed contemporary issues, such as the appearance of "Namazu-e (catfish sketch)" following major earthquakes or "Hōsō-e (smallpox sketch)" created during epidemics like smallpox, the latter of which gained attention during the COVID-19 pandemic and was exhibited at the Sumida Hokusai Museum. In the Edo period, a folk belief circulated among the populace that catfish caused major earthquakes, leading to the creation of 'Namazu-e' prints as a form of reprimand against catfish. Similarly, 'hōsō-e' prints, characterized by their solid red color, were believed to possess protective powers against epidemics and misfortune.

Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo

Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo

Many ukiyo-e artists from the Edo period gained international renown. Their works, characterized by bold compositions and vivid depictions, left a profound impact on European artists like Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh, contributing to the phenomenon known as "Japonism."

The most famous Ukiyo-e artist, Katsushika Hokusai

Among them, Katsushika Hokusai stands out as the only Japanese individual to be listed in LIFE magazine's "100 Most Influential People of the Millennium." His imaginative compositions and captivating portrayals continue to captivate audiences worldwide.

One of Hokusai's most famous works, "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off Kanagawa," is set to feature on the reverse side of the new 1,000-yen banknote starting from the fiscal year 2024 (with Kitasato Shibasaburō on the front side). The issuance of the new banknotes is scheduled to commence on July 2024. Moreover, Hokusai's "Thirty-six Views" and other masterpieces adorn the newly redesigned passports introduced in February 2020.

Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo

While traditional ukiyo-e artisans no longer exist, contemporary artists continue to produce paintings that complement the ukiyo-e style, which is then transformed into woodblock prints.

Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo

Let's Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo

Why not experience the allure of ukiyo-e firsthand under the guidance of authentic ukiyo-e artisans? They will provide insights into appreciating ukiyo-e artworks. Additionally, you can take home authentic ukiyo-e prints crafted by these artisans and those created by yourself (on a fan and book cover). Such a unique experience, exclusive to Takahashi Workshop, will add depth to your life and enrich your cultural journey. Let's experience Ukiyo-e making with authentic artisans in Tokyo.

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