The other day, I went to the Marunouchi Ichigokan Museum near Tokyo Station with my wife. We decided to go to the museum to see some Japanese woodblock prints, known as ukiyo-e in Japanese. I’ll be the first to admit that I know almost nothing about art. However, I was a little bit curious to see some of the famous prints created by Katsushika Hokusai, such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa (神奈川沖浪裏). The exhibition included over 500 pieces from the Saito Collection.
As mentioned above, I know almost nothing about art, but I was able to enjoy the colorful and thoughtful prints for what they are. My wife, on the other hand, loved the exhibition very much. In fact, when she was a child she used to read books on art, and her favorite painting at the time was The Great Wave off Kanagawa. It had been her childhood dream to see the print in real life, and she was absolutely ecstatic.
Viewing the prints, I started wondering how they were made, and I started to try to unravel the mystery behind these creations in my mind. Logically, I could only come up with two hypotheses as to how they were created. My first hypothesis was that for every print, numerous woodblocks were used—one for every color. I then wondered if it would be possible to create these multi-colored prints using a single block of wood, and imagined an extremely busy and determined Hokusai painting a single woodblock as fast as he possibly could before the paint dried out. I decided that I liked my second hypothesis better, but alas, my first hypothesis proved correct when I saw an audio-video presentation that outlined how these prints were made.
I enjoyed the exhibition very much, and I recommend going to see