We are kicked out of the nest

I am finishing up my fifth week in Japan and the time is just flying by. Our instruction ended last week. Since then we have been on our own (even our 'housemother' Keiko returned to Tokyo!) and each of us settling into a routine, turning our focus to the three editions we must create using the moku hanga technique of printmaking. For the past week I have been spending my days carving blocks. This requires much more planning than what I am used to. The blocks are made of a plywood and in order to get a nice clean print one must carve into the lower layers of the ply wood. The tricky part for me is needing to constantly consider the direction of the grain of the layer below the layer I'm carving. I'm even confused trying to write about it. Of course I have set a lofty goal for myself and having only finished carving five of the 18 blocks I think I'll need, I am beginning to wonder if I have bit off a bit more sushi than I can chew.
Last week we received our final Moku Hanga instruction from Mr. Ueba-san. Our sensei is a professional printer with over 25 years of experience. After showing us a collection of some of the editions he has printed, he taught us many aspects of printing including , mixing paint, tearing paper, preparing our brushes for use and how to use sumi ink to achieve the rich blacks I so love. Here are a few pictures of our time with Mr. Ueba-san.

Keiko introduces us to our printing sensei, Mr. Ueba-San.

Some of the many editions printed by Mr. Ueba-San.

Demonstrating how to tear paper and maintain a deckled edge.

Shaping the bristles of a horsehair brush using shark skin.

The obligatory group portrait.
Back row: Levi, Philipp, Betsy
Front row: Niccolo, Ross, Mr. Ueba-San, Laura


Shopping in Kobe

Needing a bit of an urban fix, Laura and I traveled into Kobe one Sunday morning. It's not easy to get anywhere from where we are living. The trip to Kobe requires a 30 minute walk down the hill to a bus stop and a 60 minute bus ride into Kobe. It is a lovely ride though. The island of Awaji, if not for the terraced rice fields and funny roof lines, could pass for one of our Puget Sound Islands...lots of water all around and lush green hills. Shopping in a foreign city is always a challenge, and even more so when you can't possibly decipher the language. Since neither of us is afraid to ask for directions, three times if necessary, we were able to get everything on our shopping list and then some.

A view of Kobe from inside Starbucks.
We asked a barista for help in finding a shop. He made us a map and told us to come back if we had any difficulty finding what we were looking for.
Everyone is so polite and helpful here!

We stopped in at a pharmacy and I found an interesting collection of weight loss products. From what I've seen the Japanese don't come in chubby.

The grocery store always yields an interesting assortment of delicacies.

Some streets in Kobe put us both in mind of the movie Blade Runner.

Kobe also has an interesting assortment of hatch covers.

This photo was taken from a bus window b our co-resident, Levi-san.
That's Laura and me on the left. Our ticket was for the next bus so we walked down the street for a little glass of sake. It was a very fun day.


A tardy report on week two

We are now into our third week of instruction here in Awaji. Last week, week two, we worked with a master carver. Sekioka Sensei is a carver from Tokyo. He runs a business which makes reproductions of Ukiyo-e prints from the 18th and 19th centuries. This is done by starting with an old print and meticulously recreating the blocks in old cherry wood and printing them by hand in the original manner. He showed us some of his cherry wood blocks and his carving is exquisite. Apparently there is a real dearth of carvers and presently he has only one apprentice. It's a seven year apprenticeship and the first six months of the apprenticeship is spent carving letters out of cherry wood. This may be one reason why there are so few young Japanese carvers stepping up to the plate.
The sensei also gave us a lesson in sharpening our tools, a skill I have never mastered and even after a day of personalized instruction, still haven't. At home I have two identical sets of tools. When one set gets dull, I send it off to Japan for sharpening. I have managed to get my hands on a piece of leather, (something highly discouraged by our hosts) which I am using to hone my knive blades. They're not perfect, but they're much better.

Sekoika Sensei demonstrating his carving skills.

Sensei's tools. He uses a lot more than we do for our work.

A lesson in sharpening. I really wish I'd skipped this class.

A group picture with the Sensei at the end of our time together.
Front row: Philipp, Levi, Sensei, Ross, Laura, Me
Second row: Niccolo, Keiko, Ichi, (an Awaji City official)


A few pictures from the welcome party...

Last night the Nagasawa Art Park Board gave us a welcome party. Traditional Japanese foods were served and the sake flowed. A fun time was had by all.

Ross and Masa deep in discussion.

Laura, Philipp and Norman visit with the Mayor.

These are two of the gentlemen who kept my sake glass full.

All the party attendees.


A day for self-study...and a walk

Today, to get some fresh air, and to get away from the frustrations of moku hanga for awhile, I took a long walk. My goal was to walked to the sea. I didn't get lost, but I also never made it to the sea; I had some difficulty reading my map. But I did take a few pictures as I strolled along, and thought I'd share them here...

The view walking down the long, steep, hill on which we live.

Rice fields.

A Japanese hatchcover in the chrysanthemum growing region.

I think this sign means no littering, or watch out for angry green aluminum cans.

Buddha or Yoda?

Tomorrow night we will be attending a community party! We are quite popular here. People stop us on the street to talk, usually asking us why we are here, and children stare at us and sometimes hide behind their mother's skirts. Being 'the other', the one who is 'different', is a learning experience.


A lesson in humility

I just spent a humble day in the studio. For the past three days my fellow Nagasawa Art Park residents and I have been carving blocks under the guidance of Takade-Sensei. Today Takade-Sensei gave us a printing demonstration before we each began printing our own blocks. He made it look so very easy and produced a beautiful Hikado snow scene. I quickly found out just how difficult this technique can be. It was an afternoon of extreme frustration and disappointment. I failed miserably. And if this were a reality show the tribe would surely vote me off the island of Awaji.

Niccolo, Ross and Levi look on as Takade-Sensei prints a block.

Takade-Sensei displays his print after the third pass.

The final print.

At the end of the day, we all sat down to share tea and sweets before wishing our sensei a fond farewell. Takade-Sensei expressed how much he enjoyed meeting and working with us and then presented each of us with a proof of the edition. In addition, his assistant gave us each a gift! Gift giving is quite popular in Japan and I came well stocked with little gifts for my hosts and teachers. This gift made my silly little Seattle map-bound journal and Theo's chocolate bar look rather paltry by comparison. I am learning so much.


My first week in japan

I'm over the jet lag, am past the worst of the culture shock and have even learned a few words in Japanese. So far, so good for week one of my two months on the island of Awaji, Japan. I am here, with five other international artists, to participate in the Nagasawa Art Park Residency in Japanese Woodblock Printmaking. Most of us arrived here on Monday. After a day of rest we were given a basic introduction to the Japanese water-based process by Keiko, the program director. We each created a one color block print on that day and all I can is, when the course work begins in earnest, the instruction must be pretty intense and the learning curve very steep because at this point I can't imagine possessing the skill and proficiency required to create three editions in this beautiful technique. In other words, my first attempt was quite dreadful.

Keiko discussing her collection of Japanese prints with Niccolo.

Our hosts have been very kind and generous. We were each given an array of tools and supplies for the work we will complete while here.

Wood, carving tools, brushes and paints needed for our work.

In addition, we have had an audience with the mayor of Awaji City, interviews by the local press and two days of sightseeing, which included attending a traditional Japanese puppet theatre and sampling the goods of a local saki producer.

One view of beautiful Awaji Island.

Already I am quite taken with Japanese signage. This one is a school-zone sign. I find it particularly charming.