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Destination Spotlight: Japan — Exploring the Art of Japanese Mokuhanga Woodblock Printmaking

In the summer of 2024, Professor of Art Jimin Lee will return to Japan with 15 art majors from the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) to embark on a month-long journey exploring the traditional art form of Japanese Mokuhanga woodblock printmaking, also known as “Ukiyo-e.”

Student practicing the art of woodblock printing
UCSC Art Major practicing the art of Mokuhanga woodblock carving

Ukiyo-e,” translated to “pictures of the floating world,” is a technique of carving an image onto a wooden block, brushed with water-based ink, and pressed onto Washi—a Japanese paper known for its incredible strength, texture and absorbency. This process, known as Mokuhanga, is a complex and meticulous art form that requires precision and patience. It became popular from the 17th to the 19th century in Edo (today’s Tokyo).

Tokyo

Their educational journey will begin in Tokyo, a city that blends tradition and modernity. Students will visit multiple museums and galleries to experience the intricate world of traditional and modern-day woodblock prints. According to Professor Lee, “There is a big difference between getting up close and looking at a work of art as opposed to looking at a reproduction in a book or online somewhere. I believe you have to go there and use all your senses to fully appreciate the artistic intent.”

Tokushima

Two UCSC Art Majors learning the art of woodblock printing
UCSC Art Majors learning the art of Japanese papermaking at the Awagami Paper Factory in Tokushima, Japan

In week two, students will travel South by train for three hours to Tokushima to practice the art of papermaking. Amidst the serene surroundings of rural Japan, they will spend five days at the Awagami Paper Factory learning traditional papermaking, a crucial component of Mokuhanga printmaking. This immersive experience will deepen their understanding of the art form and fosters a sense of appreciation for traditional and sustainable practices.

Kyoto

The adventure culminates in Kyoto, a city revered as the cultural heart of Japan. During the first three days, the students will take in their surroundings and explore the famous Kiyomizu-Dera temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its thousands of vermilion torii gates, Niko Castle, the first shogun of the Edo Period and Gion, a historic district known for its wooden storefronts and its Geisha culture.

From Instruction to Exhibition

The students will spend their last eight days immersed in Mokuhanga classes at the Kyoto University of the Arts (KUA), receiving intensive instruction and studio time to create their works of art. On the final day, they will present their artwork to KUA faculty and local artists.

Group of UCSC Students in Japan standing behind table of art supplies holding their finished Mokuhanga prints
UCSC Art Majors from the 2023 Japan program sharing their finished Mokuhanga woodblock prints

The Mokuhanga printmaking course in Japan offers art students a unique opportunity to explore the intersection of tradition and innovation in one of the world’s most vibrant artistic cultures. Through hands-on experiences, cultural immersion and cross-cultural exchange, students gain a deeper understanding of the art form and the country that has inspired it for centuries.

This exciting and unique program returns to Japan year after year, and when we asked Professor Lee about her experience with The Asia Institute, this is what she had to say:

Before working with The Asia Institute, I had to handle a significant amount of logistical coordination myself (before and during the trip), and that was an overwhelming responsibility for a faculty leader. The Asia Institute has helped find the best ways to reflect the program’s initial needs and goals through lengthy and often very slow communication with all of the involved parties, including our Japanese program hosts, with patience and in a respectable manner.” Regarding the art majors, she stated, “It was very clear from the program evaluation survey that students had a wonderful experience and felt they received excellent on-site support.”

If your university, college or community college is interested in designing a customized study abroad program in Japan or another exciting program destination, visit our Study Abroad Program page. There, you will learn about The Asia Institute’s program design and development approach and destination options, view examples of other custom programs and see how easy it is to begin customizing your school’s study abroad program!