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Visual Art in Japan

Visual Art in Japan
Multiple locations, Japan
Language of Instruction: 
Academic Disciplines: 
Visual Art
Graduate Courses
Program Type: 
Fulfills KU Core 4.2
Faculty Led

Experience firsthand the traditional and contemporary Japanese art and culture through papermaking and printmaking workshops with Japanese artists.

Visit various Japanese cities including Tokyo and Kyoto.

Program Summary: 

With focus on the art of printmaking and papermaking traditions in Japan, this study abroad program will offer students the opportunity to experience firsthand the traditional and contemporary Japanese art and culture. Students will immerse themselves in the art and craft of papermaking and printmaking through museum and gallery visits, guest lectures, demonstrations, and experiential learning through hands-on papermaking and printmaking workshops in Tokyo and Kyoto regions.

Students will be exposed to the history and culture of Japan through studying Japanese art, specifically traditional Ukiyo-e prints and modern/contemporary visual art. Subject matters and themes in the prints will help guide our study of traditional Japanese culture, as we examine images that depict Kabuki theatre actors, images of Yoshiwara, traditional crafts and makers, and landscapes such as Mt. Fuji. Conversely, exposure to contemporary Japanese artists and their works will enlighten and deepen our understanding of contemporary Japan. The program courses will combine travel, site visits, lectures, demonstrations, and time to make art. Our time will be divided between five locations that will give us access to both traditional Japanese visual art and contemporary culture.

Depart U.S.: Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Arrive in Osaka: Thursday, May 19, 2022
Depart Tokyo: Friday, June 10, 2022

Awagami Paper Factory, Yamakawa-cho (6 days)

Participants will travel to Yamakawa-cho which is located near Tokushima (approximately 2 hours southwest of Osaka) on the Shikoku Island. In Yamakawa participants will learn about making paper using age old practices at the Awagami Paper Factory and Museum. The Hall of Japanese Awa Hand-Made Paper and Museum was built to provide a location for the production of washi (Japanese paper) and to educate the public on the process and importance of this Japanese craft. This will be the first location where participants will spend time creating art. The group will spend a week in this small town attending lectures and demonstrations given by craftpersons at Awagami as well as KU Professor Shawn Bitters. Participants will experience the process of Japanese papermaking from harvesting the raw materials, processing them into pulp, and then forming them into sheets. This paper can become works of art in-and-of-themselves and be the substrate for the Mokuhanga (Japanese Woodblock Printmkaing) we will make later at MI-LAB residency.

Naoshima Island (3 days)

Participants will visit Naoshima, “the Art Island” which will give students a taste of contemporary art and architecture harmoniously existing in a small Japanese island landscape.

Kyoto (4 days)

Participants will visit th historical city of Kyoto where we will visit traditional woodblock printer’s studio and carver’s studio, and contemporary artist's studio.  The program will visit important historical temples, parks, museums, and other inspirational sites for young art students.

MI-LAB Mokuhanga Artist Residency, Tokyo or Tokyo area

This year the MI-Lab Mokuhanga Artist Residency will take place in Toyko. During this five-day residency we will learn from a master mokuhanga carver and printer from MI-LaB (Mokuhanga Innovation Laboratory.) Participants will learn the art of Japanese woodblock printing through lectures, demonstrations and each student will have an opportunity to create their own mokuhanga prints. As with learning the basics of how to make washi, the KU professors will aim to use this time to teach the students about the visual culture of Japan through the process of making woodblock prints. Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, the most famous examples of Mokuhanga, are iconic throughout the world. 

After the residency with MI-Lab we will have 3-5 days to explore Tokyo’s contemporary art scene. Our guide is local artist Arthur Huang. He will lead us on a tour of a wide range of galleries and museums. These excursions take us through to many of the neighborhoods and cultural sites of this busy, vibrant, clean and safe city. During the evenings students will be free to explore the city on their own.


We may have the opportunity to travel to Kawaguchiko, a beautiful lake town at the foot of Mount Fuji (Fuji-san). MI-Lab’s facility for international mokuhnaga artists is here. We will visit the residency, meet the artists, and explore this beautiful town. Student will see what possibilities are open to artists who excel and wish to broaden their creative practice with the acquisition of advanced Mokuhanga skills.

Academic Information: 

All participants must take the program course of ART 395 or ART 595 for a minimum of three credit hours. KU Visual Art majors are encouraged to enroll for 6 credit hours. 


ART 395 Special Topics: Visualizing Traditional & Contemporary Japan Through the Art of Printmaking of Papermaking-3 hours (Required)


ART 595 Special Topics: Visualizing Traditional & Contemporary Japan Through the Art of Printmaking of Papermaking-3 hours (Required)

Students may elect to take ART 395 /595 for additional 3 hours for a total of 6 hours if additional work and projects are completed.

All students will be required to keep a thoughtful sketchbook journal during the program, which will be developed as a means of research for your final project.  A final project will be required after the study abroad experience.  The final project will be developed based on individual studio or academic background and will be discussed individually to determine an appropriate outcome.


Participants will stay at hostels in Kyoto and Tokyo and a hotel in Yamakawa-cho. 


Open to undergraduate or graduate students from any accredited U.S. college or university, priority will be given to KU students in the School of the Arts, CLAS and School of Architecture, Design, and Planning. Minimum 2.5 GPA required (exceptions considered after submission of a petition).

Further Reading: 

For more information contact:

Shawn Bitters, Associate Professor
Visual Art Department
212B Chalmers Hall

Program Faculty: 

Shawn Bitters, Associate Professor has taught Serigraphy (Silkscreen), Intaglio, Drawing, Papermaking, and graduate level art theory courses in the KU Department of Visual Art since 2005. Shawn Bitters received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2005. His studio practice explores the ways that we form connections to nature and place. He has been an artist-in-residence at several international residencies including the Frans Masereel Centrum in Kasterlee, Belgium, twice at the The Hall of Awa Handmade Japanese Paper and Museum in Japan, and the Danish Council of Artists Residency on Hirsholm Island, Denmark.


Summer 2022 programs now accepting applications !

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