Mere meters from the bustle of Asakusa's Senso-ji and Nakamise-dori area, a new workshop lets visitors try their hand at ukyio-e, traditional Japanese woodblock prints.
Mokuhankan was opened in November of 2014, the brainchild (and Kickstarter project) of experienced woodblock printer Dave Bull. Originally hailing from Canada, Dave has been in Japan for over three decades, working in the field of woodblock printing for nearly as long. He became well-known on the web for his collaboration with Jed Henry on the dynamic woodblock series Ukiyo-e Heroes, which paired modern video game characters with traditional Japanese themes and printing techniques.
Building on that success, Dave knew he wanted to bring woodblock printing to an even larger audience and he's gotten off to a great start at Mokuhankan. Visitors are encouraged to make the easy climb to the second-floor workshop, where they can browse the selection of woodblock prints for sale or even watch printers at work in the back room. For those wanting a bit of a challenge, a print party is a must.
Currently offered three times a day, these hour-long experiences (¥2000 per person) allow participants to try their own hand at printing a design. Dave (or whoever else is on staff that day) first demonstrates the technique - how to lay the paper in the notches on the already-carved blocks, how to apply the paint to the block and how to use the baren tool to make the print itself. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and by the second step, it's easy to see a picture taking shape on the paper in your hands. The finished product is a scene from a famous Japanese folk tale, though Dave hopes to have more of a selection in the future from which customers can choose. If you're not entirely satisfied with your initial print, feel free to give it a go on a second, third or even fourth.
Mokuhankan is easy to find. Simply take a left at the main intersection of Namakise-dori, where the stalls change from both sides of the street to just the right. Walk under the large red torii gate, past the Chingodo Shrine and up to the 5-way intersection. Mokuhankan is straight ahead on the left, on the second floor of a narrow building. Dave has excellent directions on the website and you can even book your print party online in advance.