Traditional Crafts of Tokyo 東京の伝統工芸品Traditional Crafts of Tokyo 東京の伝統工芸品


I hope to keep on pressing the print pad,
to continue as a craftsman my whole life.

“Edo-mokuhanga (Edo Woodblock Printing)” is a multicolor printing technique unique to Japan, represented by ukiyo-e art. It developed dramatically from the middle to late Edo Period. The activities of such genius artists as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige built the foundation for this. Nearly 200 years have passed since then, but the traditional techniques are carried on to this very day.

Woodblock prints are made by a process in which a painter paints the original painting, is a carver carves this into a woodblock, and a printer applies colors to the woodblock in order to print this onto Japanese paper. Keizaburo Matsuzaki is a lively Edo woodblock studied the techniques of printing from 1952, and continues his work with a printing pad in hand even now.

To get color firmly on the Japanese paper, Mr. Matsuzaki presses his pad firmly when printing. The charm of woodblock prints lies in the ability to express texture and a unique strength not found in mechanical prints.

Mr. Matsuzaki told us “When I was training, there were still few mechanical printers, so printing by hand was the norm. We were what you would call a printing shop, so I had to make a lot of prints. I printed wrapping paper and decorative envelopes from dawn ‘til dusk.” My training period of 4 years was short, but the skills I learned here built my foundation as a craftsman.

The most important technique Mr. Matsuzaki learned was how to print quickly and accurately. With woodblock prints you have to layer colors again and again, dozens of times, so it is considered very important that you set the paper accurately on the woodblock. In order to do that you must quickly find the marks called “miate” on the woodblock and set the paper without hesitation. This work doesn’t allow for even the slightest mistake, but Mr. Matsuzaki is a master of aligning the paper with miate instantly. Watching him at work, you would think that he has some cutting edge sensors on his finger tips. He told us “Hue and tone are very important in printing. Tone is like the balance of the hue. It’s not good if you look at the work as a whole and the colors of some parts jump out at you.” If you can’t give your full attention to every detail, including how colors are spread on the woodblock and how much force you put into printing, then you can’t make a good woodblock print.

For any woodblock print, the first layer printed is a black block with the outlines. Mr. Matsuzaki spread pigment on the woodblock with a brush, then lays paper on top and prints. Using this as a foundation, he then layers color blocks one color at a time without any deviations. Some works require 30 or more prints before the painting is complete.

Mr. Matsuzaki crafted his own printing pad. It is made by applying lacquer to 48 layers of Japanese paper, wrapping this with bamboo sheaths, and spreading this into a helical shape.

Slips of paper posted on shrine pillars (left), wrapping paper (center), card-size ukiyo-e (right), all printed by Mr. Matsuzaki. He developed his skills with products like this that are made in bulk.

Because one woodblock is used to print each color, prints which use many colors require just as many woodblocks. As such, they require a great deal of time and effort to complete.

Mr. Matsuzaki also produces this reproduction of a work by the mid Edo Period ukiyo-e artist Toshusai Sharaku (left), and a work which uses a woodblock to recreate a hand painting painted by Yumeji Takehisa, a representative artist of the “Taisho Romance” style which swept the world with paintings of beautiful women (right).

Attention is given to the paper, color, and print while working.

A printer’s job is not just setting paper on woodblocks and printing. Work starts with preparing the paper. “Paper stretches and shrinks. If it shrinks while I am printing, then the print will be off even if I match the paper to the miate marks. So first I moisten the paper, and keep it stretched out while I am working. I lay the Japanese paper on moistened newspaper to adjust the moisture. A mature craftsman can take care of any paper.”

Mr. Matsuzaki makes the colors while the paper is moist. He gives his full attention to the paper, color, and print as he applies black, indigo, yellow, and vermillion to the woodblock print. Here you can see slips of paper posted on shrine pillars (left), wrapping paper (center), card-size ukiyo-e (right), all printed by Mr. Matsuzaki. He developed his skills with products like this that are made in bulk. He can reproduce any color by mixing them together. “Even if you make the same color as the sample, it will look different once its on the paper. Colors vary slightly depending on the quality of the paper, so I make adjustments while taking this into account. Once the color is ready, I do 2 or 3 test prints, and after checking that the color and miate are right, I start on the real work,” he says.

Sometimes the paper slips after printing several dozen. For this reason he checks each and every one, finds the cause if the print is off by even a little, and continues printing while making small adjustments. Mr. Matsuzaki says he feels more blessed than he really deserves to be as a craftsman when he finishes a job that he struggled with, or when a wholesaler or friend praises his works.

“My goal is to work my entire life as a craftsman. I hope heaven calls me up while I still have my printing pad in hand. This is all I have, so might end up as a printer even if I was reincarnated on Earth once more.”

Mr. Matsuzaki has given his life to printing woodblocks, and perfected his skills. His works have not only beauty, but “taste” that only an experienced craftsman can bring out.


Edo-mokuhanga Master of Traditional Crafts 松崎啓三郎 Keizaburo MatsuzakiMr. Matsuzaki was born in Chiba in 1937. From 1952, he studied under Shoji Takagi, the proprietor of Takagi Kaihodo. After 4 years of training, he became indepentnt in Machiya, Tokyo. Since then, he has been active as a print craftsman. In 1988 he was designated as a registered holder of intangible cultural properties by Arakawa City, and in 2011 he was designated as a specified holder of intangible cultural properties by Arakawa City. In 2014 he received the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Currently, he is Vice Chairman of the Arakawa City Traditional Crafts and Techniques Preservation Association, and Director of the Tokyo Traditional Woodblock Print Crafts Cooperative Association. Matsuzaki Daihodo
3-31-16 Machiya, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo
TEL: 03-3892-3280
Hours: 08:30 – 11:00, 12:00 – 15:00 (Closed Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays)