Woodblock prints: Mie
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In previous editions I covered my woodblock art in connection with Gifu Prefecture, and we now move to another neighbor of Aichi, the probably lesser-known Mie. The architecture and the region itself are, in many ways, completely different to Gifu. From the steep-roofed houses and mountains of the “snow country” you will discover instead a rugged and rocky coastline with its sometimes wild seas - plus warmer annual temperatures. Snow rarely falls in Mie, and the rice harvest always seems to be a few weeks ahead of Aichi, so, as you would expect, the architecture reflects nature’s local variations. Further influences are the two Grand Shrines of Ise, to which visitors once walked on pilgrimages. Inns, shops and pleasure areas for this continuous influx of people made, what is now Ise City, a lively destination or departure point on the route around Ise Bay and beyond.
Today, with new expressway links, the drive to Ise from Nagoya takes only a couple of hours, so people can just go for the day… the once three-hour Okazaki-Ise route for me, via Nagoya and through four toll gates, has become two hours with just one gate. The Ise Highway, now four lanes instead of two, passes directly by the Inner Grand Shrine, making travel easier (except at New Year). What has been lost is that today’s pilgrims completely miss many other interesting places that are nearby in Mie, tending to follow their car navigation’s instructions instead of looking at a map.
So, what is life like in “real” Mie? It seems slower, laid back, and certainly Ise is very quiet (again, except for New Year, when thousands crowd the two shrines, giving no holiday for the locals). Sadly, those shops, inns and pleasure areas I mentioned are mostly gone – yet the distinctive architecture can still be found. It just takes some unhurried travel to make chance-discoveries, such as the subject for this print – which are not tourist spots nor famous. Having family in Ise means that this visitor never needs to find an inn, yet I discovered this one while driving over a new flyover that had raised the road level to almost roof-height, possibly hastening the inn’s demise.
The deep red walls or bengarakabe, of the porch, caught my eye first. The name of the color was taken from the Indian word for red ochre, and is still used for the entrances to inns and places of entertainment. I then turned to the wooden lamp on a side wall. My nostalgic thoughts of how many people had probably passed though the old doors, stayed the night, and moved on etc. were themselves moved aside when I saw this rendition of a traditional “Ise roof” with its characteristic gentle curve, complete with miniature end-tiles. A carpenter had, through his skills, depicted half a building in a simple lamp. The only damage seemed to be the loss of the cut-out crest under the dusty eaves. Inside, there was no electric light bulb… only a half-burnt candle.
The decision to re-light that candle, in a print, came after a walk around the outside of the whole building. Typical of the style, it was a deep and narrow, all-wood structure, of two stories (unlike the once-usual three stories) with its outer side-walls covered in overlapped, neatly-jointed planking. Though deserted, the inn still gave a perfect example of how people of the past had not only built well but had taken the time to add small pockets of beauty - for the pilgrims of the time to appreciate as they rested from their travels…
Woodblock print. 18 blocks, hand-carved and printed
David Stones, Woodblock Printer, Okazaki.