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Woodblock News
Introduction | Index All the print news that fits!

Traditional Craft, Crisis or ... ?

As a worker in the field of traditional Japanese crafts, one of the most common things I hear from visitors to my workshop is, "Isn't it a pity that wonderful crafts like this are dying out nowadays." We sometimes tend to view traditional crafts as being superior to modern ways of doing things, but I have to wonder about this. I am sure that the craftsmen of old did not view their work in special terms. I think that they were simply people 'doing a job'. Whether they were potters, straw sandal makers, temple carpenters, or even woodblock printmakers like me, they simply got up each morning, had their breakfast, and started work, just like we do today. They made products needed by their society. But over the course of the years, as times changed, demand for various commodities fell, and that for others rose. The wheel turns - it never stops turning. Various ways of doing things arise, flourish for a time, and then fade away - naturally.

If this is indeed the normal course of events, then we should not really be so concerned with the passing of traditional crafts. We should not cry, "It's such a shame!" when we hear of a master craftsman with no apprentices by his side learning the trade. The young people who could have been his apprentices are all off busy creating new ways of doing things, as young people should. Edo-era crafts cannot possibly have much relevance in a Heisei-era world.

Even as we accept this though, another point of view remains. Think of our musician friends, busy creating modern forms of music: rock, jazz and pop, but also still making room for listening to Mozart. In this case, the modern has not displaced the old, but simply stands beside it. It seems that our society is quite capable of sparing some of its resources for the purpose of preserving these traditions.

But this can only be true for as long as there is an audience for them. If people continue to buy recordings of Mozart's music, traditional musicians will continue to play it, thus preserving the tradition. As long as people choose hand-made dishes for their table, potters will be happy to continue to create them. It comes down to a simple equation: if you value such things, then you must make use of them in your daily life. If you do not, then the wheel will indeed turn full circle, and they will disappear as a matter of course.

The choice is yours to make. It is not we the craftsmen, but you the consumers, who will decide which crafts will survive. We are waiting, our skills ready to be at your service. Our future is in your hands.

TV Listings

The 'Woodblock Shimbun' has a full selection of TV programs on file. Videos available include some of David's news appearances, complete feature programs, and some short documentaries on his work. The files are in QuickTime format, and can be easily viewed with your browser.
Program listings are on the Index page ...

'Youngest' Ukiyo-e Craftsman

Ukiyoe, the Japanese art form most familiar to foreigners, was not always highly appreciated. In its earlier days during the Edo period, ukiyoe prints were used to wrap fish, similar to how people use newspaper comics to wrap garbage. Though its reputation gradually improved, mainly due to its popularity with Westerners, it may be to no avail. Ukiyoe and the traditional woodblock printmaking craft is dying in Japan. With less than 40 members in the crafts guild, all of them over 60 years old, and no apprentices, this art form is close to extinction. (1992)
Full Story.

The Blue-eyed Ukiyo-e Craftsman

Midnight is the best time. The noise and confusion of the day's activities has died down, my two young daughters are lost in their dreams, the roar of the traffic passing on the road outside has dwindled away to an occasional murmur, and my hand is now steady and ready for the challenge. The easy parts are done, the kimono designs, the lettering, the outlines. Tonight I will carve the face - slicing away the rock-hard cherry wood sliver by sliver, and watching as the delicate features of a 10th century court lady gradually take shape in the wood. (1992)
Full Story.

David Bull, Woodblock Printmaker

When I arrive at David Bull's home in Ome in Tokyo's western suburb on a cold but sunny morning in late March, he is checking a huge delivery of kiri wood boxes from China. But this time he is not quite satisfied ... (2007)
Full Story.