Day 18 | Tokio (4)

We arrive right on time at the studio. We encounter the little ones again. First the pink team, then the yellow caps. The blues are getting ready to start. Vladimir is very charmed, he smiles and waves to the little ones. The response is minimal today. Maybe a bit too early in the day or too far into the week. Today we start an hour earlier so this afternoon we can go with Alexandra to the mokuhanga supply shop of Japan. It is the supplier for many overseas stores.

Sensei called the shop owner yesterday to let them know we were coming. He has also printed out the entire route with all transfers and timetables for us. In the morning, he will work out the transport-plan even more detailed for us, so we’ll know exactly where to go. He also notes neatly from the catalog which paper we should buy. We will be super prepared when we head out later. It’s not easy for Japanese to write Latin letters, if he makes a mistake, he apologizes three times and hits his head with his hand. The care of the master is characteristic of the people here. They want to make others as comfortable as possible and anticipate all possible problems. We find it endearing and secretly also a bit funny.

Today we each receive a block of cherry wood.

making the toplayer of the paper loose with fingers

Sensei already glued our exercises on it with a mix of craft glue and wood glue (2/1). We have to peel off the top layer of the paper. Occasionally moisten your fingers and roll the paper off in little sausages with your fingertips. I’m doing great at it. Finally, something that goes smoothly, long live my sweaty hands, I think to myself. Until I suddenly see a piece of wood without exercises - rubbed a bit too hard. The exercises are gone. V. giggles softly. I’m clearly the clumsy one between us two, I’ve noticed that a few times on this trip. But, there have to be different types, right? Vladimir is already diligently cutting and gets a ‘good!’ from the sensei. There is a mutual respect among the senseis. I already knew it, but it became really clear to me on this trip that I chose a good master!

vladimir is cutting his plate
Sensei is cutting
sensei is cutting, vladimir watching closely

This trip was also a real eye-opener for us to realize that making Mokuhanga is less rigid than we imagined. There are so many differences here compared to us, things happen differently from how we work at home. The paper, the ink, the climate, the way of cutting, printing, the tools… everything. We also notice that there are different ‘schools’, in Kyoto for example, they cut and print in a different way than they do Tokyo.

Alexandra wearing special glasses is working on her plate

Sensei suggests that we should buy a set of his knives if we want to work finely. Alexandra has such a beginner set. We are hesitant. It’s an extra cost. And it takes the sensei about 5 to 6 hours to sharpen one set for us. Plus, there isn’t much time left. But, he agrees to make a set for Vladimir. He measures Vladimir’s hand. The standard blades are a bit too small but he immediately finds another set. When he measures my hand, he bursts out laughing. Way too big - it’s out of proportion. From somewhere in the back of his studio, he pulls out a large set. My fingers are even a joint longer! Hopeless. It would have been very nice but I’ll first learn to cut better and wait with the purchase.

The exercises that I rubbed off in my enthusiasm are neatly reconstructed by the sensei for me. I feel guilty. But here, no half measures are taken.

We stop for lunch and leave on time. No lunch at hotel/restaurant Femette today. That’s for tomorrow afternoon.

Now we head off to woodlike Matsumura. The must-be shop of shops for all mokuhanga lovers. It turns out to be a very small shop. Completely different from what we had imagined.

sharkskin hanging on the wall of the shop

We do our shopping. I don’t buy the sharkskin, it’s too smelly and not rollable at all. But I get a heavy baren and fresh bamboo sheets. Vladimir ignores his potential baggage problem and buys a stack of barens and some small materials.

S & V standing in front of the shop

Then we hurry to the brush shop. Another small shop. There is a variety of brushes for sale. For painting, combing your hair, brushing clothes, polishing your toes, and for mokuhanga printing.

We see the brush-making tools of the shop owner. Eventually, we are still in the shop three quarters of an hour after closing time and she gives us a demonstration while making a brush. She doesn’t pull the iron wire along her leg like our brush maker from Izegem (town in Belgium which used to be the epicentrum for brushmakers, only some remain nowadays) does. We remember that the smallest brushes are made of horsehair. The larger ones are a mix of deer and horse.

Another nice and unexpected encounter!

brushes hanging
lady making a brush
brush to wash your toes

We eat at the local bar. Delicious, the chefs are rough-looking types. Payment and ordering are done at a machine.

On the way back, we pass by Muji to take a look at the suitcases - in case we should have to buy one.

We do our laundry, I call my parents, Vladimir calls home, we have an ice cream and eat all the cookies we have at home. Blogging, showering, sleeping.

See you tomorrow.