Woodblock printing in Japan (木版画, mokuhanga) is a technique best known for its use in the ukiyo-e artistic genre of single sheets, but it was also used for printing books in the same period. Widely adopted in Japan during the Edo period (1603–1868) and similar to woodcut in Western printmaking in some regards, the mokuhanga technique differs in that it uses water-based inks—as opposed to western woodcut, which typically uses oil-based inks. The Japanese water-based inks provide a wide range of vivid colors, glazes, and transparency.
In 764 the Empress Kōken commissioned one million small wooden pagodas, each containing a small woodblock scroll printed with a Buddhist text ( Hyakumantō Darani ). These were distributed to temples around the country as thanks for the suppression of the Emi Rebellion of 764. These are the earliest examples of woodblock printing known, or documented, from Japan.
By the eleventh century, Buddhist temples in Japan produced printed books of sutras, mandalas, and other Buddhist texts and images. For centuries, printing was mainly restricted to the Buddhist sphere, as it was too expensive for mass production, and did not have a receptive, literate public as a market. However, an important set of fans of the late Heian period (12th century), containing painted images and Buddhist sutras, reveal from loss of paint that the underdrawing for the paintings was printed from blocks.In the Kamakura period from the 12th century to the 13th century, many books were printed and published by woodblock printing at Buddhist temples in Kyoto and Kamakura.
Western style movable type printing-press was brought to Japan by Tenshō embassy in 1590, and was first printed in Kazusa, Nagasaki in 1591. However, western printing-press were discontinued after the ban on Christianity in 1614.The printing-press seized from Korea by Toyotomi Hideyoshi's forces in 1593 was also in use at the same time as the printing press from Europe. An edition of the Confucian Analects was printed in 1598, using a Korean moveable type printing press, at the order of Emperor Go-Yōzei.
Tokugawa Ieyasu established a printing school at Enko-ji in Kyoto and started publishing books using domestic wooden movable type printing-press instead of metal from 1599. Ieyasu supervised the production of 100,000 types, which were used to print many political and historical books. In 1605, books using domestic copper movable type printing-press began to be published, but copper type did not become mainstream after Ieyasu died in 1616.
The great pioneers in applying movable type printing press to the creation of artistic books, and in preceding mass production for general consumption, were Honami Kōetsu and Suminokura Soan. At their studio in Saga, Kyoto, the pair created a number of woodblock versions of the Japanese classics, both text and images, essentially converting emaki (handscrolls) to printed books, and reproducing them for wider consumption. These books, now known as Kōetsu Books, Suminokura Books, or Saga Books, are considered the first and finest printed reproductions of many of these classic tales; the Saga Book of the Tales of Ise ( Ise monogatari ), printed in 1608, is especially renowned.
Despite the appeal of moveable type, however, craftsmen soon decided that the running script style of Japanese writings was better reproduced using woodblocks. By 1640 woodblocks were once again used for nearly all purposes.After the 1640s, movable type printing declined, and books were mass-produced by conventional woodblock printing during most of the Edo period.
The mass production of woodblock prints in the Edo period was due to the high literacy rate of Japanese people in those days. The literacy rate of the Japanese in the Edo period was almost 100% for the samurai class and 50% to 60% for the chōnin and nōmin (farmer) class due to the spread of private schools terakoya . There were more than 600 rental bookstores in Edo, and people lent woodblock-printed illustrated books of various genres. While the Saga Books were printed on expensive paper, and used various embellishments, being printed specifically for a small circle of literary connoisseurs, other printers in Edo quickly adapted the conventional woodblock printing to producing cheaper books in large numbers, for more general consumption. The content of these books varied widely, including travel guides, gardening books, cookbooks, kibyōshi (satirical novels), sharebon (books on urban culture), kokkeibon (comical books), ninjōbon (romance novel), yomihon , kusazōshi , art books, play scripts for the kabuki and jōruri (puppet) theatre, etc. The best-selling books of this period were Kōshoku Ichidai Otoko (Life of an Amorous Man) by Ihara Saikaku, Nansō Satomi Hakkenden by Takizawa Bakin, and Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige by Jippensha Ikku, and these books were reprinted many times.
From the 17th century to the 19th century, ukiyo-e depicting secular subjects became very popular among the common people and were mass-produced. ukiyo-e is based on kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, beautiful women, landscapes of sightseeing spots, historical tales, and so on, and Hokusai and Hiroshige are the most famous artists. In the 18th century, Suzuki Harunobu established the technique of multicolor woodblock printing called nishiki-e and greatly developed Japanese woodblock printing culture such as ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e influenced European Japonisme and Impressionism.
Many publishing houses arose and grew, publishing both books and single-sheet prints. One of the most famous and successful was Tsuta-ya. A publisher's ownership of the physical woodblocks used to print a given text or image constituted the closest equivalent to a concept of "copyright" that existed at this time. Publishers or individuals could buy woodblocks from one another, and thus take over the production of certain texts, but beyond the ownership of a given set of blocks (and thus a very particular representation of a given subject), there was no legal conception of the ownership of ideas. Plays were adopted by competing theaters, and either reproduced wholesale, or individual plot elements or characters might be adapted; this activity was considered legitimate and routine at the time.
After the decline of ukiyo-e and introduction of modern printing technologies, woodblock printing continued as a method for printing texts as well as for producing art, both within traditional modes such as ukiyo-e and in a variety of more radical or Western forms that might be construed as modern art. In the early 20th century, shin-hanga that fused the tradition of ukiyo-e with the techniques of Western paintings became popular, and the works of Hasui Kawase and Hiroshi Yoshida gained international popularity.Institutes such as the "Adachi Institute of Woodblock Prints" and "Takezasado" continue to produce ukiyo-e prints with the same materials and methods as used in the past.
The technique for printing texts and images was generally similar. The obvious differences were the volume produced when working with texts (many pages for a single work), and the complexity of multiple colors in some images. Images in books were almost always in monochrome (black ink only), and for a time art prints were likewise monochrome or done in only two or three colors.
The text or image is first drawn onto thin washi (Japanese paper), called gampi, then glued face-down onto a plank of close-grained wood, usually a block of smooth cherry. Oil could be used to make the lines of the image more visible. An incision is made along both sides of each line or area. Wood is then chiseled away, based on the drawing outlines. The block is inked using a brush and then a flat hand-held tool called a baren is used to press the paper against the woodblock to apply the ink to the paper. The traditional baren is made in three parts, it consists of an inner core made from bamboo leaves twisted into a rope of varying thicknesses, the nodules thus created are what ultimately applies the pressure to the print. This coil is contained in a disk called an "ategawa" made from layers of very thin paper which is glued together and wrapped in a dampened bamboo leaf, the ends of which are then tied to create a handle. Modern printmakers have adapted this tool, and today barens are made of aluminum with ball bearings to apply the pressure are used; as well as less expensive plastic versions.
The first prints were simply one-color ( sumizuri-e ), with additional colors applied by hand ( kappazuri-e ). The development of two registration marks carved into the blocks called "kento" was especially helpful with the introduction of multiple colors that had to be applied with precision over previous ink layers. The sheet of paper to be printed is placed in the kento, then lowered onto the woodblock.
While, again, text was nearly always monochrome, as were images in books, the growth of the popularity of ukiyo-e brought with it demand for ever increasing numbers of colors and complexity of techniques. The stages of this development follow:
Japanese printmaking, as with many other features of Japanese art, tended to organize itself into schools and movements. The most notable schools (see also schools of ukiyo-e artists) and, later, movements of moku-hanga were:
Other artists, such as Sharaku, Kabukidō Enkyō, Sugakudo, and Shibata Zesshin, are considered independent artists, free of school associations, and presumably, without the resulting associated benefits from publishers, who might be less inclined to produce prints by an unaffiliated artist. However, many of the surviving examples speak to the contrary. The earliest examples by these artists, are among the most desirable, valuable, and rarest, of all ukiyo-e. Additionally, many examples exhibit very fine printing, using expensive mica ( kirazuri ), premium inks and the highest quality papers.
Following are common Tokugawa-period print sizes. Sizes varied depending on the period, and those given are approximate; they are based on the pre-printing paper sizes, and paper was often trimmed after printing.
about 1⁄4 the size of ōban
|19.5 × 13 (7.7 × 5.1)|
|aiban (合判)||intermediate||34 × 22.5 (13.4 × 8.9)|
|bai-ōban (倍大判)||intermediate||45.7 × 34.5 (18.0 × 13.6)|
|chūban (中判)||medium||26 × 19 (10.2 × 7.5)|
|hashira-e (柱絵)||pillar print||73 × 12 (28.7 × 4.7)|
or hoso-e (細絵)
|narrow||33 × 14.5 (13.0 × 5.7)|
|39 × 17 (15.4 × 6.7)|
|kakemono-e (掛物絵)||hanging scroll||76.5 × 23 (30.1 × 9.1)|
|nagaban (長判)||long||50 × 20 (19.7 × 7.9)|
|ōban (大判)||large||38 × 25.5 (15.0 × 10.0)|
|58 × 32 (23 × 13)|
|ō-tanzaku (大短冊判)||large poem card||38 × 17 (15.0 × 6.7)|
|chū-tanzaku (中短冊判)||medium poem card||38 × 13 (15.0 × 5.1)|
|surimono (刷物)||35 × 20 (13.8 × 7.9)|
|12 × 9 (4.7 × 3.5) –|
19 × 13 (7.5 × 5.1)
The Japanese terms for vertical (portrait) and horizontal (landscape) formats for images are tate-e (立て絵) and yoko-e (横絵), respectively.
Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. The term 'ukiyo-e' (浮世絵) translates as "picture[s] of the floating world".
Woodcut is a relief printing technique in printmaking. An artist carves an image into the surface of a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that the artist cuts away carry no ink, while characters or images at surface level carry the ink to produce the print. The block is cut along the wood grain. The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.
Color printing or colour printing is the reproduction of an image or text in color. Any natural scene or color photograph can be optically and physiologically dissected into three primary colors, red, green and blue, roughly equal amounts of which give rise to the perception of white, and different proportions of which give rise to the visual sensations of all other colors. The additive combination of any two primary colors in roughly equal proportion gives rise to the perception of a secondary color. For example, red and green yields yellow, red and blue yields magenta, and green and blue yield cyan. Only yellow is counter-intuitive. Yellow, cyan and magenta are merely the "basic" secondary colors: unequal mixtures of the primaries give rise to perception of many other colors all of which may be considered "tertiary."
Shunga (春画) is a type of Japanese erotic art typically executed as a kind of ukiyo-e, often in woodblock print format. While rare, there are also extant erotic painted handscrolls which predate ukiyo-e. Translated literally, the Japanese word shunga means picture of spring; "spring" is a common euphemism for sex.
Woodblock printing or block printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns used widely throughout East Asia and originating in China in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles and later paper. As a method of printing on cloth, the earliest surviving examples from China date to before 220 AD. Woodblock printing existed in Tang China by the 7th century AD and remained the most common East Asian method of printing books and other texts, as well as images, until the 19th century. Ukiyo-e is the best-known type of Japanese woodblock art print. Most European uses of the technique for printing images on paper are covered by the art term woodcut, except for the block-books produced mainly in the 15th century.
Nishiki-e is a type of Japanese multi-coloured woodblock printing; the technique is used primarily in ukiyo-e. It was invented in the 1760s, and perfected and popularized by the printmaker Suzuki Harunobu, who produced many nishiki-e prints between 1765 and his death five years later.
Shin-hanga was an art movement in early 20th-century Japan, during the Taishō and Shōwa periods, that revitalized traditional ukiyo-e art rooted in the Edo and Meiji periods. It maintained the traditional ukiyo-e collaborative system where the artist, carver, printer, and publisher engaged in division of labor, as opposed to the parallel sōsaku-hanga movement which advocated the principles of "self-drawn" (jiga), "self-carved" (jikoku) and "self-printed" (jizuri), according to which the artist, with the desire of expressing the self, is the sole creator of art.
Sōsaku-hanga was an art movement of woodblock printing which was conceived in early 20th-century Japan. It stressed the artist as the sole creator motivated by a desire for self-expression, and advocated principles of art that is "self-drawn", "self-carved" and "self-printed". As opposed to the parallel shin-hanga movement that maintained the traditional ukiyo-e collaborative system where the artist, carver, printer, and publisher engaged in division of labor, creative print artists distinguished themselves as creators of art for art's sake.
Printing in East Asia originated from the Han dynasty in China, evolving from ink rubbings made on paper or cloth from texts on stone tables used during the Han. Printing is considered one of the Four Great Inventions of China that spread throughout the world. A specific type of printing called mechanical woodblock printing on paper started in China during the Tang dynasty before the 8th century CE. The use of woodblock printing spread throughout Asia, the idea of the printing press eventually reached Europe, which improved on the design with the introduction mechanical press. The Chinese used only clay and wood movable type at first. The use of metal movable type was known in Korea by the 13th century. From the 17th century to the 19th century in Japan, woodblock prints called ukiyo-e were mass-produced, which influenced European Japonisme and the Impressionists. The European-style printing press became known in East Asia by the 16th century but was not adopted. Centuries later, mechanical printing presses combining some European influences were adopted, but then replaced with newer laser printing systems designed in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Nikuhitsu-ga (肉筆画) is a form of Japanese painting in the ukiyo-e art style. The woodblock prints of this genre have become so famous in the West as to become almost synonymous with the term "ukiyo-e", but most ukiyo-e artists were painters as well as printmakers, with much the same style and subjects. Some turned to painting at the end of a career in prints, while some, like Miyagawa Chōshun and a number of the artists of the Kaigetsudō school, never made prints and only worked in paintings.
Urushi-e refers to three different techniques in Japanese art. Though urushi-e is most associated with woodblock, the term urushi-e is not exclusive to that medium. It can also refer to pictures using lacquer as a paint on three-dimensional lacquered objects; and paintings using actual lacquer on paper or occasionally silk.
The history of printing starts as early as 3500 BCE, when the proto-Elamite and Sumerian civilizations used cylinder seals to certify documents written in clay. Other early forms include block seals, hammered coinage, pottery imprints, and cloth printing. Initially a method of printing patterns on cloth such as silk, woodblock printing originated in China around 200 AD, and was transferred to paper by the 7th century, leading to the spread of book production in Asia. Movable type was invented in the Song dynasty in the eleventh century but it received limited use compared to woodblock printing. Woodblock printing was also used in Europe until the fifteenth century when a process for mass-producing metal type and the printing press were invented to support an economical book publishing industry. This industry enabled the communication of ideas and sharing of knowledge on an unprecedented scale. Alongside the development of text printing, new and lower-cost methods of image reproduction were developed, including lithography, screen printing and photocopying.
Kobayashi Kiyochika was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, best known for his colour woodblock prints and newspaper illustrations. His work documents the rapid modernization and Westernization Japan underwent during the Meiji period (1868–1912) and employs a sense of light and shade called kōsen-ga inspired by Western art techniques. His work first found an audience in the 1870s with prints of red-brick buildings and trains that had proliferated after the Meiji Restoration; his prints of the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95 were also popular. Woodblock printing fell out of favour during this period, and many collectors consider Kobayashi's work the last significant example of ukiyo-e.
The term aizuri-e usually refers to Japanese woodblock prints that are printed entirely or predominantly in blue. When a second color is used, it is usually red. Even if only a single type of blue ink was used, variations in lightness and darkness (value) could be achieved by superimposing multiple printings of parts of the design or by the application of a gradation of ink to the wooden printing block (bokashi).
Richard Douglas Lane (1926–2002) was an American scholar, author, collector, and dealer of Japanese art. He lived in Japan for much of his life, and had a long association with the Honolulu Museum of Art in Hawaii, which now holds his vast art collection.
E-hon or Ehon (絵本) is the Japanese term for picture books. It may be applied in the general sense, or may refer specifically to a type of woodblock printed illustrated volume published in the Edo period.
Three Travellers before a Waterfall is an ukiyo-e woodblock print by Osaka-based late Edo period print designer Ryūsai Shigeharu (1802–1853). It depicts a light-hearted scene of two men and one woman travelling on foot through the country-side. The print belongs to the permanent collection of the Prince Takamado Gallery of Japanese Art in the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada.
Three Beauties of the Present Day is a nishiki-e colour woodblock print from c. 1792–93 by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Kitagawa Utamaro. The triangular composition depicts the profiles of three celebrity beauties of the time: geisha Tomimoto Toyohina, and teahouse waitresses Naniwaya Kita and Takashima Hisa. The print is also known under the titles Three Beauties of the Kansei Era and Three Famous Beauties.
Senpan Maekawa was a Japanese woodblock printer associated with the sosaku hanga "creative prints" movement.
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