​Accessible Art: Japanese Woodblock Prints

During a six hour layover in Honolulu, my friend Brian and I went to the Honolulu Museum of Art. The museum is really cool and worth a visit for just about anyone passing through the city. They have the standard sort of stuff, but I was most impressed with their Asian collection. In particular, the Japanese woodblock prints stood out.

Usually I skim over the woodblocks, but their collection was stunning. I went around the room looking at all of them several times before leaving. I took pictures so that I could figure out later who the artist was.

Later, just out of curiousity, I started researching what it would take to buy a Japanese woodblock by a good artist. It was strictly aspirational, not something I intended on buying in the near future.

But I was surprised. Legitimate Japanese woodblocks from the 1800s, when the Shogun was in charge, go for one or two hundred. The ones that captivated me in the museum were by a guy named Ogata Gekko and were printed in the early 1900s, and were even cheaper.

I bought three woodblocks for my tea room. The first is by Utagawa Hiroshige, widely seen as the last great master of woodblock printing. I bought an original copy of this one for $600. My copy was actually owned by the Worcester Museum of Art at one point, which I think is pretty cool. I then bought an Ogata Gekko, also tea themed, for $70. Last I got an original Hokusai (the guy who made the Great Wave, the most famous woodblock) for $200. It’s not tea themed, but it is travel themed.

If you just search eBay for “original woodblock“, you’ll see a huge list of them. I think the old ones are the coolest, as they are like little pieces of history, but newer ones are beautiful too.

Once you find one you like, upload the image of it to ukiyo-e. From there you can see which museums and databases have a copy. If there are none, I’d probably assume it’s not legitimate.

If you’re looking for art of high enough quality that it’s shown at museums but don’t want to spend a lot of money, take a look at Japanese woodblocks. I really like mine and intend to buy more if I find more tea related ones that I like.


Photo is my Hokusai. It’s part of the “One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each As Explained by the Old Nurse” series he did. You can read the Met’s info on it here.

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