Ukiyo-e is a traditional Japanese art. It is a multi-colored wood-block print. It was first appeared and became popular during samurai era, between mid 1600 and 1700. “Ukiyo” means current events and “e” means painting. Thus Ukiyo-e means paintings of current events. People during the time obtained news of the society as well as the fashion and travel trend from Ukiyoe. Many Ukiyo-e depict then popular beautiful women, land scape, sumo wrestlers, and Kabuki actors. You may have already known and seen famous Ukiyo-es by Hokusai, Sharaku and Utamaro.
Creation of Ukiyo-e involves three stages; illustrating, woodcarving, and printing. Each process requires skillful craftsmen in the field. But it is not the end. The publisher called “Hanmoto” coordinates these three processes and artists, then finally a piece of Ukiyo-e is complete. Ukiyoe is such an elaborated art created by perfect collaboration of multi skilled artists and craftsmen. How skilled? Believe it or not, truly experienced woodcarvers are capable to split a hair into ten with their chisels. These extraordinary skills have been passed on for more than 300 years and are now recognized as “Japanese Traditional Handicraft” by Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
To pass the adequate skills of Ukiyo-e, artists need serious and long-term commitment for training. However, the number of successors is decreasing. The main problem is there are not enough jobs to keep them going. Therefore, the masters can’t afford young apprentices who are willing to learn. Today, there are about thirty printers and only nine wood carvers. If we leave the current situation, the 350-year-old Ukiyo-e techniques will be lost within 20 years. Ukiyo-e is now facing the crisis of extinction.