Morning Adventure With Little Plastic Folder

Wood block print by Munakata Shiko

Our world is redefining the idea of adventure I think, and small things are getting more interesting by the minute. I had an adventure with a small thing this morning. It began with a search for a coaster for my coffee mug. I was starting to feel that my use of paper towels as coasters was wasteful and not very attractive. And, you know, I was trying to maintain a semblance of civility on Day 3 without a shower.  So I routed around in a bag of small odds and ends I had picked up in my travels and I found something that I could use as a coaster. It was a little plastic folder. Here it is:

Little plastic folder with wood block print by Munakata Shiko.

I remembered buying it in a shop in Japan last year. At first, I just put my coffee mug on it and started typing away. Then I realized that I loved it so much, I put my mug back on the paper towel. I thought about having a houseful of prints like the one on the folder, but large and made of paper and framed.

Oh wait, no, I don’t think I am ready for a house full of things yet.

Wood block print by Munakata Shiko

On the back of the folder were the words “Munakata Shiko.” After I little research, I learned that Munakata Shiko is not a museum or folder manufacturer, as I’d assumed, but a celebrated 20th century Japanese wood block artist. There is even a museum dedicated to his art in Aomori, Japan.

In Japan, the art of wood block printing, “hanga,” probably dates back to the 8th century, although it became very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. A lot of Japanese art that feels familiar are wood block prints from that period, like the “Great Wave of Kanagawa” by Hokusai, which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Modern artists have also used wood block printing, like Gaughin, who created a series of woodblock prints about his travels in Tahiti.

“Love and You Will Be Happy,” Wood block print by Paul Gaughin

You can’t even believe this. There is a SONG called “Wood Block.”

This afternoon, I was on a Zoom with my old friend Tom to talk about a book. Coincidentally, he began describing some of his trip to Japan last year. He talked about how much he loved Japan, partly because everything seems to be treated with artistic flourish and care. A door knob, a pastry, a manhole  cover. A little plastic folder.

Wood block print by Munakata Shiko


“Art is the illusion of spontaneity.”
       Japanese Proverb


  1. As soon as you described the image I had the thought “some day one of her grandchildren is going to bring it to the Antiques Road Show and become rich over night.” But I have that fantasy a lot.

    I can do 3 days in the same pajamas. It really cuts down on laundry. But then I take a shower, put on real cloths, look outside to make sure the coast is clear, and strut across the parking lot and throw away the garbage.

    But you’re right about saving trees and using coasters. Let’s see what I can find?

  2. Japanese arts have always appealed to me–the desire to carry on centuries-old traditions and the pursuit of perfection. Love the prints you’re chosen.

  3. You might want to check out local artist, Tom Killion, who uses this technique to make modern wood block prints featuring Northern California landscapes.

    1. Oh wow, it’s really gorgeous work. I tried to include one here so others could see but I can’t make it work. So I hope people will google him. Thanks Jan.

  4. THX Kim – I love how you spontaneously take a subject and devote a complete article on it! Inspiring. What a wonderful and funny and thoughtful approach.

  5. Beautiful post, Kim! I also love Japanese wood block prints, but hadn’t known about Munakata Shiko. We have two prints by Tom Killian on our walls, and they are treasures to us. One is California, and the other Tanzania. He went to UCSC, like I did, then got a PhD in African History at Stanford.

    1. Don’t know whether you saw Jan’s post but she mentioned Killan also. His prints remind me of the 19th style but more vibrant and free. He has an amazing background!

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