JAPANESE WOODBLOCK PRINT SHOPS ARE TRYING TO BRING BACK THE DESTINATION, but the industry’s popularity has dwindled since the Fukushima nuclear accident, a trend that is causing concern among retailers and the government.
In Japan, which imports a disproportionate amount of the country’s woodblock printing equipment, the industry has faced a shortage of woodblock printers and, since last year, the government has restricted the supply of paper products.
The government has also set aside money for a woodblock printer in the country for one year.
With prices rising, and many Japanese businesses facing bankruptcy, Woodblock printing shops are scrambling to find new markets to expand, according to Japanese Woodblocks, a nonprofit that has been in the business since 2005.
“In some cases, they’ve already closed down,” said Tomoya Morita, president of the Woodblock Print Shop Association, an association that has a warehouse and distribution center in Tokyo.
“But some companies, like myself, are still doing business.”
Many of the woodblock shops that were founded in the 1950s are now gone, Morita said.
“We’re not going to let it happen.”
Woodblock print shops can be a valuable source of income in Japan, especially if you have a specialty like Japanese woodblock art or a high-end printer, said Yoshinori Nishikoshi, a partner at the Tokyo office of Japan-based printing house Nikkan Bancorp.
He’s been in Japan for 15 years, and he says the country is one of the best places to do woodblock print work.
“The demand is so high,” he said.
The popularity of Japanese woodblocks and printers is an issue because the industry is a big source of profits for the government, which has set aside a fund for woodblock production in the hope that printing could bring back some of the Japanese economy.
Japan’s government also is looking to expand its supply of woodblocks.
“For printing, we are looking at the possibility of expanding,” said Yoshihisa Sugimoto, Japan’s trade representative for woodblocks, referring to the government’s plan to produce woodblock paper at a facility near Tokyo.
The woodblock companies that survive can either sell woodblocks directly to retailers, or they can import their woodblock-printing supplies and sell it overseas.
That could be a win for Woodblock Industries Inc., the largest woodblock producer in Japan.
It is based in Tokyo, but is also based in Osaka, in southern Japan, and plans to open a new facility in Japan’s industrial capital of Fukuoka.
The company plans to invest in research and development and sell woodblock printed products to retailers through distributors in the U.S. and China.
The Woodblock Paper Company is based out of Osaka, but has also been making woodblock papers in Japan since 2004.
Since then, the company has become more focused on growing its business, which grew at an annual rate of 9 percent from 2008 to 2011, and also expanded into other parts of the world, said Hiromitsu Ogasawara, the Woodblocks’ president.
“There are more and more countries around the world who want to get into the woodblocks business,” Ogasawa said.