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By the early 1900s, Japan’s rich tradition of woodblock printing was on its deathbed. The cornerstone of commercial publishing for hundreds of years, it had also spawned the floruit of ukiyo-e, one of the glories of old Edo merchant culture.

As Japan opened to the West and publishers gained access to foreign advanced technology, however, the print industry underwent a massive revolution. Suddenly, images could be produced quickly, cheaply and in much larger quantities. By comparison, woodcutting was a laborious technique that, in the case of ukiyo-e prints, could require the carving of a dozen blocks before a single image could be completed. It was a slow and cumbersome process, one that was utterly unsuited to a society rushing headlong into modernity.

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