Just outside the southern gate of Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple, Kenninji, you may have come upon a small “museum” selling replicas of classic, old woodblock prints by the masters. However, it is not the traditional old houses that first grabs your attention but the sign with bold, black lettering in English advertising his business hours. OPEN WHEN I WAKE UP AND CLOSED WHEN I MUST GO TO SLEEP-WHEN I HAD ENOUGH THE STORE IS CLOSED.
Piles of clutter greet you as you enter what looks to be remnants of an artists studio/gallery. Resting on the floor of the inner room, asleep or just resting, is Mamoru Ichimura, a retired 75 year old traditional woodblock printer.
Wood block printing, like most of the traditional arts, originated in China, and the techniques were used for printing on clothing. The Japanese wood block prints that are most famous in the west are “Ukiyoe” prints from “The Floating World”. Making a print usually involved a collaboration of three artists: E-shi, the artist, Hori-shi, the carver, and theTsuri-shi, the printer. Ichimura began learning his trade when he was 14 years old from his grandfather, due to his father’s early passing. Wood block prints were used as wrapping paper or cheap commercial souvenirs in Japan during the Edo period (1600-1867). However, the prints from the masters of the 1800s, such as Hiroshige and Hokusai, made their way to Europe and became inspiration for some of Europe’s top artists at the time: Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulous-Lautrec. These artists were intrigued by the original use of color and composition. Ukiyo-e prints featured dramatic depths of field as well as asymmetrical compositions.
Finally, when asked about the unique business hours in front of the shop, Ichimura said, “In Japan when I was young ,work began when you woke up and finished when you went to bed. I first had that written in Japanese in front of my shop, until an English person decided he would translate that into English for me. So I put that up instead,” followed by a chuckle.