The triumvirate art of ukiyo-e provides a different perspective of reality.

Colour My World

In a quiet Kyoto backstreet, just around the corner from Kennin-ji Temple, you'll find what master printer Mamoru Ichimura calls “the smallest ukiyo-e museum in the world”.

Ukiyo-e, translated literally as “pictures of the floating world”, is an art form that first came to prominence in 17th century Japan. The “floating world” refers to passing moments in time, fleeting beauty and transient pleasures.

The influence of these charming woodblock prints spread far and wide, with the likes of van Gogh and Monet having drawn inspiration from their unique style.  

The creation process is collaborative, comprising an artist, carver and printer. Ichimura-san learned how to create ukiyo-e prints from observing his grandfather. “I took over from him more than 50 years ago. I opened the museum a decade ago as I wanted to spread the word about this wonderful art which sadly is dying out.”

Ichimura-san's workshop is a chaotic clutter of paint pots, brushes, carved wood blocks and paper, but when he settles down on the tatami floor to work, a sense of order prevails. It quickly becomes apparent that extreme precision and deftness of touch is essential.

After wetting the carved woodblock he carefully inks its entire surface using a horsehair brush.

Next, he takes a sheet of lightly dampened paper, specially prepared so that it absorbs the ideal amount of ink, and gently lays it over the woodblock, ensuring it lines up exactly with the carved marks at the bottom of the block.

Using a baren, a circular pad, he presses hard but evenly on the paper to ensure the ink is properly transferred. Once satisfied, Ichimura-san slowly peels the freshly inked paper from the block.

A different block is used for each colour added, with different parts of the carving raised for each individual colour.

Now 67, Ichimura-san has no plans to retire. “There are less than 50 printers like me left in the whole of Japan. I enjoy it so much that I'll continue for as long as I can.”

The master printer takes great pride in demonstrating his skills to visitors. “It's a pleasure to share my passion for this art, and it allows me to meet people from all over the world. I've never been out of Japan, but through my visitors I've been to all corners of the globe!”

Home  -  Photos  -  Japan photos  -  Japan to UK photos  -  Tear sheets