Literary Tourist in Tokyo:
Once you’ve nerded out at the bookstores in the Jimbocho neighbourhood of Tokyo, you’ll want to go to Asakusa (浅草). It’s the centre of Tokyo’s shitamachi (literally “low city”), where a bustling atmosphere of old Tokyo survives. Asakusa’s main attraction is Sensoji, a very popular Buddhist temple,
built in the 7th century. The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street that’s been providing temple visitors with traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries, if you’re hungry, there are tonnes of cool little open air restaurants lining the surrounding streets.
You’ll also find another major attraction here, one especially designed for literary tourists: Dave Bull’s Mokuhankan studio.
Stroll over, join a ‘print party, and make yourself some woodblock prints! While producing a print to take home – with the assistance of the young Mokuhankan printing staff – is the main activity at a Print Party, it’s not the only thing to do: at the other end of the building there’s a printer’s workroom that you can visit and watch the work in progress. Not all the people working here speak great English, but those who can are happy to talk about their work (don’t bother them too much though – this is how they make their living!). And you’re not limited to just one shot at the Print Party bench – nearly all
attendees want to try at least a few times. The learning curve isn’t too severe; by the third or fourth try, you usually see some excellent prints coming off the blocks (who knows, perhaps they’ll offer you a job! 🙂 Though there isn’t an open bar, there is a complimentary coffee corner, that includes some nice Japanese snacks (no Baren cookies yet, unfortunately).
Mokuhankan has an excellent selection of interesting old prints for sale too. Groups of prints drawn from Dave’s personal collection are also on (rotating) display and the staff will give you a guided tour of ‘David’s Choice – a mini museum’. The shop is located on the second floor of a long and narrow building on ‘Rokku-dori’, one of the most interesting streets in the Asakusa area. It has three main sections: the front room overlooking the street is the ‘event space’ where the Print Parties are held. The six-mat tatami room at the very rear of the building is set up for two of their printers to use as a small workroom (visitors are welcome to kick off their shoes and step up onto the mats to watch – quietly). In between these two is the retail space. Lots of beautifully produced prints are available, and there’s a special display called ‘Living with Woodblock Prints’ showing you some of the ways that prints can be enjoyed without framing them up on a wall.
For more information on Mokuhankan, including a reservation calendar, click here.
To learn more about Dave Bull and ukiyo-e printing, listen to Nigel Beale’s Biblio File conversation with him here: