Works and Days

Japanese Woodblock Printing: Cultural Connections and Dialogues through Art, Presidents Summer Fellowship

Growing up, Japan was always a large presence in my life. My mother made sure that I spoke Japanese fluently, and filled our household with the food, music, and traditions of her world. She also enrolled me in a Japanese school system in Eugene, Oregon, where I was able to continue learning about Japan outside my home. The result was a life suspended between the country of my heritage thousands of miles across the Pacific, and the American culture surrounding me. I am in Japan to learn the craft of traditional woodblock printing, an art that holds a vital place in Japan’s history, and has fascinated and influenced me for several years. Richard Steiner, an artist who resides in Kyoto and has taught for more than thirty years has agreed to teach me a seven week course on the art form. While in Kyoto I will also educate myself by fully engaging in the Japanese community to grasp what it means to be a part of the culture in a way I haven’t previously been able. I want to share and help pass on this rich traditional craft and opportunity for creativity. To do so, I will create an introductory art course on woodblock printing and offer the class in Portland where students will create their own Japanese prints and learn about the history of the art form.   

My second day in Kyoto finds me still recovering from the jet lag and travel fatigue of the two day journey that brought me here. My woodblock printing class begins on Monday, and so I have the weekend to relax and get settled in the city. My instructor Richard Steiner gave me a bicycle tour on the day I arrived in Kyoto, which is divided by two rivers that converge to split the city. He also showed me the printmaking studio, a tiny old house stuffed to the ceiling with prints and papers and pigments and tucked away in a quiet neighborhood across the Kamo river (below). 

Printmaking Studio

My living accommodations consist of the second floor in an old Japanese home in Mr. Steiner's neighborhood. I have neither a shower, a kitchen, or airconditioning (unfortunate in the hot and humid Kyoto weather) but at around $100 I am willing to stick it out. My hostess Mrs. Matsumoto who lives next door says I have my pick of the four rooms on the second floor, so I plan on rotating through them depending on where the sun is during the day, and blasting the fans at night.

I share the second floor with what sounds like a very large rat. He crawls around in the walls and ceilings, and though I cringe to think of him as a roommate, it is comforting to have a scapegoat when I start hearing the ghost noises at night. Still I am a skittish sleeper, particularly when living alone in an old rickety Japanese house, and so I expect several sleepless nights ahead of me once the jet lag stops putting me to sleep at 5 pm.


As for the bathing situation, I must make use of the public bath a few minutes away, which is a good opportunity to get to know the local people (though I spend most of the time trying to keep my tattoo hidden, for culturally tattoos are associated with the Japanese mafia).

More to come as I grow accustomed to life here and begin my work in the studio.

Tags: psf, presidents summer fellowship, japan, art, woodblock printing