Experience: Mokuhankan Ukiyo-e Workshop

I first heard of David Bull a few years ago, when I stumbled across the Ukiyo-e Heroes website of Jed Henry. Jed took modern video game characters, placed them in traditional Japanese settings and sent his pictures off to David in Tokyo to be made into woodblock prints. David took the process through the complicated steps of carving and printing, making youtube videos along the way.

Being the Japan “nerd” that I am, I think these videos are awesome.

So when I discovered through Kickstarter that David was hoping to build his own workshop in Tokyo that would offer workshops to those interested in the printing process, I knew I had to check it out. After much hard work and renovation, the Mokuhankan shop opened its doors in Asakusa in October 2014.

The exterior of Mokuhankan
The exterior of Mokuhankan

For guests who want the hands-on experience, David offers up to three “print parties” per day (the shop is closed on Tuesdays). During this time, David (or a staff member) demonstrates how to print a design from four separate carved blocks. Then visitors can try their own hand – applying the paint and glue to the blocks, laying the paper, and using the baren tool to press the paper into the paint. If you’re not satisfied with your first attempts, you’re free to go back and do it as many times as you’d like.

David models the printing process before we begin
David models the printing process before we begin

At the moment, David has only one design for the workshops – a lovely cut of a Japanese folk tale – but the goal is to have several options, including seasonal themes. Eventually, the first participant to register for each print party will be able to choose what design the entire group will print.

My finished product ... not too bad, eh?
My finished product … not too bad, eh?

When you are finished with your prints, you can check out the back room where David and his staff work on printing special orders and certain series for subscribers. Usually, at least one of the printers is there and will happily let you watch the action. There is also a small shop with quality prints, done by both David and well-regarded Japanese printers.

The small shop area (prints for sale are just out of sight on the left)
The small shop area (prints for sale are just out of sight on the left)

Mokuhankan is easy to find. From the main intersection halfway up the Nakamise-dori (the main shopping street leading up to Senso-ji), take a left and head under the large torii gate. Walk past the Chingo-do Shrine to the five-way intersection of Roku Broadway. Mokuhankan is directly ahead on the left, on the second floor of a narrow building. Workshops can booked easily online at the Mokuhankan website. The price for a print party is ¥2000, though ask for discounts for families and groups.

4 thoughts on “Experience: Mokuhankan Ukiyo-e Workshop

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  1. As someone who loves the traditional Ukiyoe style prints it’s nice to see the practice is being preserved through contemporary renditions. That Mokuhankan encourages you to add your own personalised touch also makes the workshop an interesting place to check out.

    1. David, it’s worth popping in here if you’re in Tokyo. David Bull’s knowledge of ukiyo-e is vast, and he’ll definitely take the time to chat with you about if if you’re interested.

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