Be Seated, Please ...

My work as a woodblock craftsman is all done in a cross-legged sitting position, the pose known in Japanese as agura. It's been quite a number of years that I have been doing this now, so my legs have become quite used to being folded up for many hours at a time.

Although some of the younger printers do their work standing up at a tall bench, nearly all of the older ones follow the traditional pattern and use a very low bench, just a few centimeters off the tatami.

The actual work of moving the baren over the surface of the paper is made much easier by this agura position, but there is one drawback; over a period of many years, one's legs gradually become somewhat deformed. Some of the older printers I know can no longer stand up straight, and walk as though they were riding a horse, with their legs bowed out to each side.

I am determined not to let this happen to me. There's not much I can do about the working part of the day, but during the hours I am not at my bench, I make sure my legs get plenty of use; I use a bicycle instead of a car, I walk wherever possible, and I visit the local swimming centre three or four mornings a week.

There is an interesting side benefit from this traditioal way of working. A while ago, I had to attend a funeral being held in a country temple, and it was a very, very long affair. The men all sat in this agura position during the endless recitation of the prayers, and when it was finally over, after a couple of hours, guess who was the only one who could stand up?