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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #48 - Summer 2002
Contents of this Issue:


We're well into a hot and humid summer here in Ome - hopefully it's a bit more comfortable where you are, and you don't have to run down into your basement for some relief from the heat, like I do here! Perhaps this little newsletter will provide a few minutes diversion ...

It's another slim issue this time; newsletter stories have to take a back seat to the prints of course, and the recent prints have been even more labour-intensive than usual (and that's really saying something!) But even with the endless scramble to keep the prints coming your way, I've still found time to keep the studio construction moving along, and as you will see from the photo report in this issue, quite a lot has been accomplished since I last spoke to you.

Thanks for your interest in this printmaker's work!

From Halifax to Hamura

I'd better be careful here ... it would be all to easy to let this story just become some kind of travel diary - because we sure covered a lot of miles during the three months we were in Japan! After leaving her parents' place we made a loop through Shikoku, then went back over to the mainland, down as far as Himeji, and then started hopping from here to there on the way back up toward Tokyo. On the day we were in Okayama the weather turned bad, something quite unusual during that trip, and we took shelter inside a department store for a couple of hours. Why would I consider that worthwhile telling you? Because I saw something in there that really gave an impetus to my progress toward becoming a printmaker.

I guess it must have been on the temporary exhibit floors upstairs that we ran into a display of woodblock prints set up by a travelling salesman from a Tokyo publisher. Of course most of them were the usual ukiyo-e reproductions: Utamaro, Hiroshige, etc., but at one side of the display were four prints of a very different kind, and these stopped me dead in my tracks.

They were modern prints, but made the old way - with separate designer, carver and printer working together under the organization of a publisher. They depicted scenes from the Genji Monogatari, and were designed by Okada Yoshio. The publisher had obviously pulled out all the stops in their production; the prints were gorgeous, with a very large number of impressions being used. I had had absolutely no idea that such beautiful prints were still being produced, and I had to have them. We weren't carrying enough money for the purchase, so we arranged with the salesman that we would visit their company when we returned to Tokyo.

And what a visit that was! Although I was probably just another 'bothersome' visitor from the point of view of the publisher - Mr. Saeki of the Yuyudo Company - from my side the visit was a wonderful eye-opener and stimulus. He was very open and friendly to us, and I think not just because we were buying a set of his new prints. He chatted with us about the state of the printmaking business in Japan, gave me information on where I could pick up the supplies I intended to take back to Canada, and even provided me with some blank woodblocks from his own stock. What he actually thought about my plan of becoming a woodblock printmaker I cannot say, but outwardly anyway, he was supportive.

With the help of the information he gave me, I then started to gather together some of the supplies. I certainly wasn't ready to get 'special order' tools such as hand-made barens, etc., but I bought a small selection of intermediate grade knives, some brushes, and a plastic baren. (It turned out that I actually chose the tools quite well, because some of those knives are still in my tool box, in daily use more than twenty years later ...)

Another important stop was at the workshop of the Shimano family, the last surviving block planers in Tokyo. I wasn't sure that they would be willing to take an order from me, as I had the impression that they wouldn't want their carefully seasoned and prepared cherry wood to be 'wasted' on a beginner like me, but such fears were unfounded, and they too were friendly and cooperative. I ordered and paid for some beautiful smooth blocks to be shipped back over to my home in Canada.

It was then nearly time to wrap things up and think about returning to Canada ourselves; I knew that the computer system I had installed at the music store would need some attention by now, and of course I still had no job, and would need to find some way to make a living.

But before getting ready to head to Narita, there was yet one more important thing to do; I still had not had a chance to meet any carvers or printers. Come to Japan for three months and not see any craftsmen at work? Crazy! I had asked Shimano-san about this, and he had suggested that I try contacting yet another one of the reproduction publishers - one who had a 'stable' of carvers and printers working on the premises.

So one morning during our final few days in Japan, I headed over to the address in Mejiro, and stood ready to knock on the door, knowing that upstairs in the building I was about to enter, busily hunched over their workbenches, were the men whom I had come to Japan to meet ...

Studio Diary

I missed putting this 'Studio Diary' section in the last newsletter, but things haven't been standing still down there! In the winter issue I showed some photos of the framing of the inside walls; this time we'll see the new outer wall going up ...

Of course I'm doing this with Canadian-style 2x4 construction, although in this case, because I need strong insulation, I'm using the thicker 2x6 (giving me about 15cm of insulation). Putting the wall up was fun, although it was a bit more complicated than most walls, because of the odd angles that the parts meet.

Here with this story are a few photos showing the way it happened ...

I've got to tell you about the windows! When I was planning this construction, I first visited the showroom of Japan's major sash maker to get a price on some. I looked at samples of both Japanese-made windows and some that the company was importing from America, then sat down with one of the showroom staff members to work out some prices. It was an absolute fiasco, and I can't give you a final total of the price they quoted, because I just got up and left part way through. The big kicker came when they gave their estimate on a set of windows of the approximate size. The price was very high - somewhere around 400,000 ~ 500,000 yen - and the deal was already looking like a 'no go' when the lady asked "And from which maker would you be ordering the glass to go in these windows?" I did a bit of a double-take, not understanding this rather strange question, so she then explained that the price she had quoted so far was just for the outer sash of the windows - now we would get down to business and talk about glass ...

Well, that certainly made the decision easy - I would have to import a set of windows from North America myself. I got home, got on the internet, and started firing off inquiries to various companies who had products that looked like they would fill the bill. A small company in rural Ontario Canada - Thermotech Windows - had a very interesting product line; the windows were neither aluminum (which conducts heat to the outside very rapidly) nor vinyl (very weak on windows this large), but were made of fiberglass reinforced plastic. They were triple-glazed, gas filled, and were coated with a substance that eliminates heat loss out through the glass at night. They could make sizes that would suit my needs, and the openable windows came ready-fitted with screens.

I asked them if they would quote on a project for Japan, and they did: for the four units just about $1800 (US$), and for shipping from their factory in Canada over to Yokohama just about $300. This worked out to just about 238,000 yen - half of the Japanese quote (which hadn't yet included either glass, or such things as delivery, etc. ...)

I placed the order, and sat back to wait for the notification from Yokohama. When the crate arrived a couple of months later I headed down to the port to arrange for customs clearance and transportation. These of course added more costs to my investment:

     13,000 yen ... unloading from ship
      9,282 yen ... 3.9% import duty
     12,330 yen ... 5% consumption tax
     18,000 yen ... truck from port to my home

So for a total of just under 300,000 yen, a fraction of the price of the 'best' Japanese product, I have a set of wonderfully strong, fabulously well-insulated, top-of-the line windows. And they really are very well made: they are solid and strong, and the three layers of glass are bonded into a single sealed unit. The openable casements have a very tight seal, and there is no chance of any drafts once the strong latch has pulled the window closed (with a most satisfying 'thunk' sound!).

A few years from now, when it's time to get to work on the house upstairs, it's going to be fun shopping around among the North American 'package' home builders to see what they can make for me!

Sadako's Corner
"Nice Greenery!"

Strolling in Ome near David's home one day in May, we saw young wild wisteria plants everywhere in the hills. They must have germinated from seeds that had fallen from older plants high up in the trees. Their tendrils curled this way and that, entwining each other and swaying in the gentle breeze. It looked just as though all these wisteria 'children' were playing with each other.

Looking from a viewpoint at the mountainside or at the forest on the steep river bank we could see many gorgeous lilac clusters scattered among the tree tops. It is true that cultivated wisteria is beautiful - hanging neatly from trellises - but the view of wild ones on green trees is also very attractive.

That day while enjoying the wild wisteria, we came across a strange scene: a wisteria growing in a tall cone shape! How could it grow that way? As we approached, we found the answer - brown dead branches among the dense green wisteria, a skeleton wrapped up and choked by the beautiful flowering plant. Such a shocking contrast of life and death!

Wisteria is a vine and climbs up any tree that it can in its search for sunlight. The early stages of its life are very critical because in the wild a wisteria can survive only if it is able to climb high enough to reach the light. Otherwise it just fades away and dies. Although the soft and humid compost under trees would seem be a perfect place for their seeds to germinate, most young wisteria plants end their life at that stage. Only seedlings that are blessed with enormous vigor manage to climb up a tree to spread their leaves. What is good for a wisteria often brings misery to a tree: 'give them an inch and they will take a mile!' ...

Well, this is a photo taken in Dave's kitchen. Yes, that's a wisteria in the window. The roots are far down below - more than 10 meters down along the river bank on the neighbouring property. Last year this vine twined its way along the fence bordering the properties, but it didn't appear so healthy, and didn't bloom in the spring. This year though, come late April, it grew rapidly and covered the entire fence with gorgeous lilac clusters. As in most cases, flowers like this are best seen from the neighbour's point of view, so David was very pleased with the beautiful sight he saw from his window.

When the flowering period was over, the plant directed all its energy into extending its vines, and they began to grow ferociously. One headed straight for David's house across the two meter gap, and became ... what you see in this photo!

To my surprise, it was only I who was puzzled to see this. The owner - David - just smiled happily and said "This is amazing! First just one little tendril succeeded in making its way through the window. But once it was in, other vines followed it one after the other! Isn't all this greenery beautiful, don't you think?


My daughters are both over here again for part of the summer. Himi thought it would be a good idea to make a 'Welcome' sign for the cat door in the new workshop ...