In line with the opening of the 2017 MAPS exhibition, this weekend’s written feature will be focusing on the process of making traditional Japanese woodblock prints. While not all of the prints in the MAPS exhibit are made in this manner, the process and its cultural resonance in Japan are certainly an integral part of and influence on printmaking worldwide.
(To see more details about MAPS 2017 see our home page)
Before delving into the process, first a brief introduction into the history of woodblock printing in Japan:
“Woodblock printing came to Japan during the eighth century and became the primary method of printing from the eleventh to the nineteenth centuries. As in China, the technology was first used to duplicate Buddhist texts and then later, books of Chinese origin. It was not until the 1500s that books originally in Japanese began to be printed. Black and white illustrations were a part of these early texts, to which color was sometimes added by hand, but eventually colored prints developed around 1765 as printing techniques improved. The first colored prints in Japan were original works of art, which soon led to the publishing of the popular, single-sheet ukiyo-e” (Khan Academy).
The woodblock printing process and the artistry of it that developed in Japan led the country to develop it’s own unique style, perspective, and craftsmanship in woodblock printing – a style which became known as ukiyo-e, or “images of the floating world”. While artists now are based less around the traditional ukiyo-e style, the technical process developed in Japan is still in use today.
The technical process of making a traditional woodblock print is intricate and requires an intense amount of concentration, accuracy, and skill. Listed below is the step by step methods of making such a print:
- The block carver begins with a flat piece of wood – typically cherry – and take the prescribed drawing and place it face down onto the block
- The piece of paper thus applied would then be made transparent by rubbing it with oil and then removing the paper so that the reverse image of the ink was transferred to the block
- The carver would then outline the areas that were to be inked/printed black and, after doing that, would carve away the areas that were to be left blank
- This part of the process creates the block which would be used to print the black lines and is known as the “key block”
- This process would then be repeated for every color that would be used within the image, resulting in different blocks for each different color.
- In order to retain accuracy in the printing of the different colors onto the single image/page, a registration key is used – typically a kagi (a raised “L” shape which fits to one corner of the block and into which a corner of the page is placed) and a hikitsuke (a raised bar usually laid along the long-side of the block and into the corner of the hagi)
- The printing process of a single sheet continues by using the various blocks and colors and re-registering the sheet until the entire image was completed to the artist’s satisfaction
To see the process described above with more intricate detail, watch a video here!
For more information on the history, techniques, processes, as well as more examples of Japanese woodblock printing, please see the following references:
The First Showing of MAPS 2017 is Coming Right Up! the Yarmouth Historical Society, which is hosting the exhibit from May 1 to June 1, wrote a little introductory piece about the exhibit on their page to shed some light on what MAPS is all about. Check out their press release by clicking here!
Hope to see you on Thursday, May 11th!
We’re livening up the week with another Volunteer Spotlight!
This Spotlight features Briar Pelletier, FOA’s Secretary and an avid volunteer. Briar began as an intern with FOA for the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society (MAPS) exhibition here in Portland, Maine, and continued to do so during her semester abroad at Hirosaki University in Aomori, Japan. She is a driving force here at FOA, so let’s learn some more about her:
Volunteer Spotlight: Briar Pelletier
Q: Tell us about yourself!
A: I am an Art History student from the University of Maine, but I currently live in Portland. If you REALLY want to get to know me, I have a cat, collect vinyl records, and I can’t pass up on a great vintage dress.
Q: How did you get involved with Friends of Aomori?
A: I answered an ad looking for an intern. The ad explained that a non-profit organization called “Friends of Aomori” was looking for an intern to help with various tasks that could pertain to their interests. I lived in Orono at the time and spoke with then-board members Patricia Parker and Thomas Bahun over the phone. I told them I was an art student studying cross-cultural perspectives in Japanese printmaking, and they were shocked to hear it: they then told me about the MAPS exhibition and what it was. It was kismet: I drove right down to Portland the next day to interview and they brought me on.
Q: What kind of volunteer work do you enjoy doing for Friends of Aomori?
A: When I signed on as an intern, I latched onto the MAPS project because I thought it was just this amazing concept. I helped design promotional materials and exhibition labeling and assisted with the show’s planning and installation at SPACE Gallery. After that, I left Maine to study and conduct research on cross-cultural artistic exchange in Aomori, Japan. When I came back, I joined the FOA Board and now help continue MAPS as a touring exhibition in Maine. I created the MAPS digital collection and also help with our website, social media, educational outreach, and recruitment. I love what we do!
Q: What has been your favorite moment from volunteering with Friends of Aomori?
A: Meeting some of the Aomori artists featured in MAPS, who visited Maine during our first MAPS reception, was really exciting and solidified the scope and consequent reach of the exchange for me.
Q: What makes volunteering important to you?
A: Volunteering for something you believe in is truly invigorating. I never see my volunteer work for the art exchange as a chore and being a part of something that brings my local community together with a global connection helps not only me, but those connected by it.
With spring fast approaching both Maine and Aomori, it seems appropriate to look at an aspect of Aomori’s culture that resembles that of the State of Maine. Maine is renowned for its vibrant natural environment and abundance of outdoor activities – especially in its national and state parks, which are enjoyed by both locals and visiting tourists.
So, how about Aomori’s natural environment and outdoor culture?
In the interior of the Tohoku region and spreading across the Prefectures of Aomori, Akita, and Iwate, resides Towada-Hachimantai National Park. The park is split up into two separate areas: the Northern area known as Towada-Hakkoda (which is within both Aomori and Akita), and the Southern area known as Hachimantai (which is within both Akita and Iwate). Each area – North and South – has equally stunning scenery and a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking trails, rustic hot springs, tourist boat rides, snowshoe hiking, winter/spring skiing, camping, and nature tours.
Natural Features: Mount Hokkada, Lake Towada, Oirase-Keiryu (mountain stream & gorge), The Hakkoda Branch of the Tohoku University Botanical Garden, volcanic land formations
Wild Habitats for: Asiatic Black Bears, Golden Eagles, and the Japanese Serow (resembles a deer, but is a member of the cow family)
Natural Features: Mount Hachimantai, a highland marsh/Hachiman pond, Mt. Iwate, Mt. Akita-Komagatake, Mt. Yake-Yama, the Hachimantai Aspite line (corridor of snow – so winter only!), Juhyo (frost-covered trees – so winter only!), volcanic land formations
Wild Habitats for: Golden Eagles, the Japanese Serow (resembles a deer, but is a member of the cow family), Forest Green Tree Frog (species unique to Japan), and a variety of alpine plants
Like the woodlands of Maine, Towada-Hachimantai National Park is admired for it’s ability to appeal to the visitor regardless of the season. Whether it be Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter, people are drawn to these mountains, lakes, and woods in order to experience the power and beauty of nature.
For more information on Towada-Hachimantai National Park and it’s different areas, please check out the links below!
(All photo’s belong to the Ministry of the Environment: Government of Japan: http://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/towada/point/index.html)
The Aomori Prefecture is well known for it’s abundant and delicious supply of scallops and apples – but what about the rest of its cuisine? Aomori is well known throughout Japan for it’s variety of healthy and authentic recipes as well as its fresh, local produce. Let’s explore five unique dishes that Aomori has to offer the hungry traveler!
1) Cha-gayu made with Kusa-cha
In this dish, Cha-Gayu (literally translated as tea-porridge) is made with a particular type of tea known as Kusa-cha, or grass-tea. This dish is a specialty of the town of Noheji, which is located at the Shimokita peninsula in the Aomori prefecture. Cha-gayu made with Kusa-cha is liked for its roasted, savory smell which is enhanced by a slightly sweet taste with hints of dashi stock.
This type of ramen originates from the Tanesashi coast in Hachinohe, Aomori and consists of a steamy combination of fresh seafood and simply salt for seasoning. Oftentimes Iso-ramen will have a wide variety of seafood in its recipe – from uni (sea urchin), to hoya (sea squirts), and perhaps even some awabi (abalone). When these ingredients are put together they form a rich, yet simplistic, dish.
3)Senbei-Jiru made with Nanbu-Senbei crackers
Another culinary specialty of the Hachinohe region is Senbei-Jiru, a vegetable soup that is made with special Nanbu-Senbei crackers. These crackers – which are a delightful snack on their own – are broken into pieces and then submerged into the soup where they soak up its flavor. Surprisingly, even after being soaked in the hot broth these crackers don’t fall apart!
This dish is an Aomori staple, and while it is typically made for special occasions, it can be found throughout the prefecture year-round. Ichigo-ni is a seafood soup that is made from uni (sea urchin) and awabi (abalone) that are mixed with soy sauce and salt. Its name translates to “boiled strawberries” and while there are no strawberries to be found in this recipe, it is believed to have gotten its name from the way that the floating uni resemble the wild strawberries of Aomori.
Our last dish on this list is called Igamenchi and is made out of squid tentacles and fins that are mixed with some vegetables and then deep fried. This dish is a favorite amongst Izakaya (Japanese pub) visitors, particularly in Hirosaki city where the dish originated, and is a perfect addition to drinks.
For more information on these foods as well as other delicacies from the Aomori Prefecture, please visit these references:
While the state of Maine seems to still be stuck in the midst of Winter, Spring Festivities in the Aomori Prefecture are approaching – the most notable being that 2017 will be the 100th year of the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival!
Hirosaki City is located in the Aomori Prefecture and is home to Hirosaki Park and the famously picturesque Hirosaki Castle. The Cherry Blossom Festival in Hirosaki Park has been voted one of the best in the country and is held every year between late April and early May when the park’s approximately 2,600 cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. The festival offers a wide range of activities for visitors, from boat rides along the west moat, to picnics on the park grounds, and to the festival stalls full of seasonal food; with so much to do it’s easy to see why this festival draws over two million people per year!
For more information on the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival, please visit the following: