February 6, 2013
There are in Japan two very large, nation-wide print organizations. The older one is Japan Print Association (Nihon Hanga Kyokai). It was organized about 80 years ago and is quite large with a membership of several hundred. It displays the whole range of prints, including digital and photography. They hold their exhibitions in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum in Ueno Part, central Tokyo.
The other one is the Japan Print Society (Nihon Hanga Kai; <www.nipponhanga.jp>). They held their 51st exhibition last year, also in the same Ueno Part museum. It was started by Shiko Munakata and his friends. He is perhaps the most famous Japanese printmaker in contemporary history. (See his Wikipedia entry for details.) My own teacher, Masahiko Tokumitsu, was a friend of Munakata's and an early member of the Society.
I am also a member. At first, when I was still a student of Tokumitsu's, I displayed my prints in the annual shows. After I won a prize in one of them, I was up-graded to Junior Membership. When Tokumitsu quit the society for health reasons, I quit also. A few years after he passed away, I rejoined and was given Full Membership status.
The difference between the two print organizations is that the older one accepts any print medium, whereas ours is 95% woodblock. When there was talk several years ago, during one of the annual executive meetings, of opening up the society to other print mediums, I denounced this motion with heated passion, even banging the table for special effect. It had a special effect, and we continue to display mostly woodblock prints. (The current president, Kogure Shimpo, is a silkscreen printmaker, so we display silkscreen prints every year. This cannot be helped.) Our group was started by woodblock printmakers, and I want to keep it that way. All the other print mediums have amply opportunities to display their artworks. But in these exhibitions there are few woodblock prints.
Last November we held our 53rd show in the newly renovated Tokyo Metropolitan Museum. It was a huge exhibition. We had four very large and long galleries with probably over 300 prints on the walls. I went there on the day before the show opened to help hang the works.
The next day, a Sunday, I sat at the entrance to help sell the catalog, and guide visitors to the prints of their friends. Museums want to know how many guests an exhibition has, so they loan the organizers those hand-held clickers. They fit neatly in the palm of one's hand and the clicker is just below the thumb. While I took care of sales, the woman sitting next to me at the desk did the clicking. I know that it is not unusual for organizers to add a few numbers to the total, to give a better impression to the museum. A group which has very few visitors will have a difficult time reserving the venue in later years.
This woman, a very nice and intelligent, middle-aged individual, would add some extra clicks for every visitor who entered. After a while, however, her thumb took off and was clicking 6 or 8 or 9 for each visitor. She was banging away on the counter 100 clicks to the second, seemingly. I wanted to say something, but kept my mouth shut. It was unbelievable. One or two extra clicks is normal, but she was fanatic. I had to get up, go to the toilet and laugh. I witnessed this for only part of one day; if she was on board other days, or every day, then I would guess we had several million visitors. Everyone in Tokyo would have had to come for us to reach that number.
But museums are not dummies. I am sure they know this trick, and reduce total visitor numbers by half at least. Even then, our 53rd exhibition must seemingly have broken some records. I wonder if she could use her thumb well for the following few days.