Moku hanga is a traditional Japanese woodblock printing technique. It is the most popular media used in the artistic genre of ukiyo-e. Moku hanga dates back to the Eighth Century as a method of reproducing Buddhist religious documents brought from China.

This printing technique was exclusively practiced in Japanese Buddhist monasteries for the use of text reproduction up until the 17th century when the Japanese began using moku hanga for non religious purposes.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the technique developed into an art form, a complex craft in which every step of the printing process was specialized and practiced by an individual artist.

Although it is unusual for contemporary moku hanga artists to specialize in the steps of the printing process, the methods still remain quite similar to the system used in the 17th and 18th centuries. The design or text first must be drawn onto a paper that is glued onto a wooden board. Then, portions of the image are carved out of the wood according to what sections need to be printed. Water-based ink (a characteristic of moku hanga, as western printing processes tend to use oil-based ink) is then applied to the block. The paper is lined up and burnished using a baren, onto the block. When lifted, the paper is left with a print of the image on the block in ink. Printing presses are also used to burnish the paper in place of a baren.

Ukiyo-e is literally translated to “images of the floating world”; this is characteristic of the subject matter typically depicted in ukiyo-e prints (scenes of Japanese entertainers and urban life).

The popular use of ukiyo-e is divided into two time periods in Japanese history: the Edo Period (also known as the Tokugawa Period, 1603-1868) and the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

During the Edo Period, there was little social conflict which allowed for artistic development and the ascent of ukiyo-e as an art genre.

In the Meiji Period, Japan’s doors opened to the West and Western influences are evident in ukiyo-e prints (actual depictions of Westerners as well as artistic styling).