Keizo Sato

Master Printer, Ukiyo-e Woodblock Printing Guild, Kyoto, Japan


Ukiyo-e Woodblock Printmaking


Brief History of Ukiyo-e Prints:
Woodblock printing came to Japan from China in the 7th century in a form of religious scriptures. First prints were made in black and white and they were often treasured inside of Buddhist statues as prayers. During Kamakura period (12th century) and Muromachi period (from 14th to 16th centuries) woodcuts were used mainly for religious purposes. Along the years their form developed. Prints started to have elegant lines and they were hand colored.

In the beginning of Edo period (17th century) popular literature arose among the merchant class and wood block printing was taken into use for making picture story books and other story books. In 1672 Hishikawa Moronobu published a print of drawing in sheet form calling it as Ukiyo-e. This was the first time when the term was used. Meaning of the wood block print grew wider.

In 1744 registration marks were attached on the blocks and color prints started to appear. The first color prints were with light red and light yellow over the blac sumi lines printed from key blocks.
Full color print was born in 1765 by Suzuki Harunobu. Because his prints were beautiful as brocade, people called them as nishiki-e (brocade pictures). It is belived that in this time an woodcut artisan called Kinroku invented the idea of kento-registration as we know it nowadays. After this Kiyonaga, Utamaro, Hokusai, Sharaku, Hiroshige and all the other famous ukiyo-e masters produced their work. The method of making prints developed into its peak during this period of time.
When Meiji period started in 1868, the techical skills of woodblock printing were developed into their utmost, but the artistic meaning of ukiyo-e prints was weakening. After 1890 western intaglio prints (etchings) were introduced to Japan and various creative prints began flourishing.
In Taisho period (1912-) new style called “shin hanga”was born in wood block printing. It was produced by different artists than the ones making ukiyo-e prints. Shin hanga movement revived the aristic touch in prints, but the working process was very much the same as before: Prints were made in collaboration with professional carvers and printers.

After 1945 artists in Japan have used woodcut in various ways for their free expression, not depending any more on the skills of professional craftsmen. Most contemporary prints are carved and printed by the artist himself.


  • Demonstration

    The World of Woodblock Printmaking

    Laitinen, Moilanen & Tanttu: The Art and Craft of Woodblock
    Printmaking - Woodblock printmaking with oil-based inks and
    the Japanese watercolour woodcut.


    rubbing demonstration