Out on the Street

With the arrival of spring, the mood at our Asakusa shop has changed a lot. In retrospect, it was good for us to have started up in the late autumn, because that gave us time to get things organized and gain our 'sea legs' before the main tourist season arrived. The sakura season then changed everything - the street outside was flooded with people from morning until late every night. They didn't all visit our shop of course, in fact only a very tiny portion of the passers-by came up our stairs, but it was enough to run us off our feet during that two/three week period.

We are very interested to see what the traffic pattern will be over the next few months. Just what the next few months will be like is still unknown to us, but it's clear that the 'sakura peak' won't continue through the entire summer, and in fact the crowds have already begun to fall off from that level.

So it was that the other day, one of the staff members and I tried a little experiment. We prepared a small printing stand and took it downstairs to the sidewalk where it would fit snugly in the space next to our open door. There is certainly no room there to do proper printing work, but the idea is not to make prints for sale, but to do something that will catch the attention of the people walking by. Hopefully, if enough of them stop to watch for a minute or so, we will be able to pass them the pamphlet introducing our Print Parties, and perhaps some of them might head upstairs to see what is there ...

It was a bit more windy than I would have liked, but we had prepared for that by building a wind guard at the edge of the stand, on which was a small printing block, a bowl of pigment, my baren, and a small clear box containing some pre-moistened paper. After everything was in place, I got to work, while my partner grabbed some pamphlets and began to announce to all nearby, "Now open! A new little woodblock print shop! Come and watch the printing! ..."

At first it seemed to work very well. I hadn't been printing more than a minute or so before a European couple stopped to look, and then headed up the stairs. But it wasn't as easy as all that. This street can get very crowded - we were trying this on a day during the Golden Week holiday - and the press from all the oncoming pedestrians made it difficult for people to either notice us, or to stop and watch even if they did. During the rest of the few hours that we kept it up, not one other person ended up going upstairs, although we did pass out a lot of pamphlets, along with many of the little (single-impression) prints that I made one after the other in a long stream.

As I stood there doing the printing, I was reminded of a time more than forty years ago when I last stood out on the streets like this. Over in London after dropping out of school, I actually made a pretty good living for a few months playing my flute on the plaza in front of the Royal Festival Hall there. I was a 'hit' there from the very first day, easily filling my flute case with money over the course of no more than an hour or so on any given evening.

I couldn't help smiling to myself as I was packing up after the first day of not-particularly-successful street printing here in Asakusa. The long arc of my career has brought me back to the same place - out on the street trying to get peoples' attention - only this time I'm apparently not so good at it!


Comments on this story ...

Posted by: Steve

I wonder if any of the print shops in the Edo period or later did anything like that? Given that prints were probably cheaper and more widely available, I wouldn't be surprised.

Posted by: Dave

I can't speak for demonstrations on the street, but they certainly sold them on the streets …

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