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Try Japanese Ukiyo-e Block Printing at Osaka’s Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum

Love the art of Katsushika Hokusai or Utagawa Hiroshige? Admire the prints and try Japan’s traditional woodblock printmaking for yourself in Kansai with this hands-on ukiyo-e workshop at the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum in Namba, Osaka!

Osaka’s Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum

This cozy museum in Osaka’s busy Namba area (near Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi) is focused on old art, diving deep into the “floating worlds” of ukiyo-e, an art form mainly produced during Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868). Ukiyo-e is believed to have originated as works depicting the everyday lives of ordinary people in late 16th-century Kyoto, before the trend eventually spread to Edo (present-day Tokyo) and its popularity exploded, becoming the worldwide phenomenon that many know and love today – and strongly inluencing foreign artists from Monet to Van Gogh along the way.

Located so close to the birthplace of ukiyo-e, the Osaka Ukiyo-e Museum exhibits a collection rich with ukiyo-e prints connected to the western Japan region of Kansai, with numerous pieces depicting scenes of Kyoto and Osaka in centuries past, an area once known as “Kamigata.” There are glimpses of nature and city streets, but in the Kamigata region around Kyoto and Osaka, glamorous portraits of kabuki performers in their richly detailed performance costumes. Each intricate ukiyo-e print is actually proof of an entire team of skilled workers, from the famous named artist (like Katsuhika Hokusai or Utagawa Hiroshige) who paints the original design, to the extremely nimble carvers who cut the design into a series of wood blocks, and even expert print-makers who seamlessly line up block after block on the page to create the final multi-colored image. But thanks to the hard work of those artisans long ago (named and unnamed alike), each ukiyo-e print is truly a window into the past, giving us a split-second glimpse of real life in the Edo period. A trip to the Osaka Ukiyo-e Museum offers not only a look at the elegant aesthetics of days long past, but a chance to hop back in time and admire the people, places, and events as well!

Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum (上方浮世絵館)
1-6-4 Namba, Chuo Ward, Osaka
Hours: 11:00 – 18:00 (closed Mon)
Admission: adults 700 yen | high schoolers 500 yen | children 300 yen
Official Website (en)

The Ukiyo-e Printmaking Workshop

If just looking at beautiful examples of ukiyo-e art isn’t enough for you to feel immersed, then the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum’s regular ukiyo-e printing workshops might be just the thing. These short, quick, and fun ukiyo-e classes let you get hands-on with the nuts and bolts of Japanese block printing in a traditional Japanese room above the museum galleries, and the four different difficulty levels let you challenge yourself as much as you want – although you might be surprised at how hard it is to achieve block print perfection at any level! Since the ukiyo-e museum also has displays on all the tools of the trade, it’s a fun chance to get your hands on the same tools you just saw in a glass case in a gallery downstairs, and learn how it really feels to use them to create art.

The three different difficulty levels for the ukiyo-e printing workshops allow participants to try printing one of four different designs: beginners looking for an easy experience can do one of two different simple kabuki mask designs, intermediate workshop participants put together a scene of a local Osaka girl in kimono at nearby Hozenji Alley, and “advanced” workshop challengers get to attempt a print of the museum’s starry-eyed cat mascot in front of Hozenji Temple. These designs differ in terms of the number of colors involved and the intricacy of each printed layer, although the whole process is deceptively simple at first glance. The process is fun, but it’s actually quite challenging to get the design as perfect as you want it to be, and when it comes to block printing there are no redos!

Take your time, work carefully, and you should (hopefully) end up with a nice clean print. The friendly workshop leaders guide each participant through the process, so you don’t have to know anything about woodblock printing to participate! Just brush each of the colorful inks onto the corresponding blocks in turn, ensuring an even coating, and then press the paper against the ink and rub firmly with a specialized tool called a “baren.” The key to a good finished product is consistent ink application, consistent pressure, and consistent location when lining up each of the different colors. Doing it all perfectly on your first try isn’t easy, but whatever you end up with will be an ukiyo-e print that’s uniquely your own! And when you’re visiting the birthplace of ukiyo-e as an art form, we think it’s a great experience to have, and a great little souvenir to take home. Stop by the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum next time you’re in Osaka, and don’t forget to reserve a spot in the workshop too!

Ukiyo-e Printing Workshop (浮世絵制作「摺り」体験)
Fee: easy course 800 yen | intermediate course 1,200 yen | advanced course 1,500 yen
Details/Reservations (en)

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