This blog is created by Finnish printmaker and book artist Tuula Moilanen in co-operation with Sumio Yamazaki, a dealer and collector of antique Japanese prints and art books in Kyoto. Together we study Japanese old printing methods, especially woodcuts, and bring you new information about their yet hidden secrets.
More information about us:
WHAT IS MOKUHANGA?
Word mokuhanga means "woodcut print" in Japanese language. Nowadays it is also used to describe Japanese watercolor woodcut printing technique. Famous ukiyo-e prints from 18th and 19th century, which were designed by master artists such as Hokusai and Utamaro, are all made with mokuhanga. In those days this demanding printing technique was also widely used in book production, advertising and in various paper crafts.
Please follow our next updates on curious old print items from Meiji-Taisho period.
Hikifuda posters were designed in Japan as New Year gifts for customers by various shops and manufacturers. They usually carry well-wishing images of good luck and fortune, for example Fuji-mountain, cranes, Fukusuke or O-Fuku. Among the seven lucky gods the most popular ones used are Daikoku and Ebisu. Sometimes a calendar for the becoming year is included in the advertisement. A picture base for the poster was often provided by the printing workshop. The product information and the merchant’s name was printed on the blank space usually composed on the left side of the poster.
The short production period of hikifuda posters dates around the turn of the 20th century. The most valued posters are made with woodblock printing technique, but also the ones printed with lithography and offset methods of the time are nowadays considered as highly interesting collectible items.
Original senshafuda (senjafuda) votive slips are always made with woodblock printing. They came into fashion in the beginning of the 19th century when a trend for travel begun and many pilgrimage routes developed. First senshafudas were simple black and white name labels that were pasted on the pillars of shrines and temples. This was to prove the visitor’s own faith and also to gain appreciation from the other visitors coming into the same temple.
Gradually senshafudas developed into multicolor small artworks that were published by devoted collectors in senshafuda-exchange groups. Each collector group produced senshafuda prints with various themes, starting with famous kabuki-actors and landscapes in ukiyo-e style to modern style design of folk traditions and objects of daily life. The activity of senshafuda exchange groups reached its peak during the first decades of the 20th century.
Senshafuda with kabuki-actors
Takarabune (treasure boat) prints have magical powers. They were used in Japan during the New Year for gaining the best possible hatsuyume, the first dream of the year. The print was placed under the pillow before going to sleep on the last night of the old year. The picture of a boat filled with rice and various treasures, and with the seven lucky gods on board helped to provide good omens for becoming year.
Merchants in Edo-period Japan cleverly adapted the custom of takarabune pictures to their own advertising purposes. They started to publish ever more finely executed takarabune prints in vast quantities as gifts to customers and also for sale. A new magic was attached to the prints: When the print is pasted over a doorway, so that the boat in the picture is heading inside the house, it will bring you good luck and riches all the year round.
Pochibukuros are printed envelopes used for giving small money gifts. Their production started during the 19th century, when a vast variety of woodcut printed items came out to the market. The exact production date for each individual pochibukuro is unknown due to their practical use as wrapping.
There are many skillful art works among the early pochibukuro. The motifs on the envelopes vary from cultural peculiarities and literary themes to simple kimono patterns depicting fauna and flora. Sometimes miniature ukiyo-e images were printed for the enjoyment of wealthy customers.
In the first half of the 20th century the use of pochibukuro concentrated to the New Year’s time. Nowadays genuine woodblock printed pochibukuros have become extremely rare, but the custom of handing out money wrapped in an envelope still prevails in Japan