Gyotaku: A Unique Japanese Tradition in Which a Fish Becomes a Work of Art

Gyotaku: A Unique Japanese Tradition in Which a Fish Becomes a Work of Art

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Gyotaku is a traditional Japanese art form that is highly unique, and some may even say bizarre. The word Gyotaku itself is a combination of two separate words – Gyo, which means ‘fish’, and Taku, which means rubbing. As its name indicates, Gyotaku is an art that produces imprints of fish through the method of rubbing.

The Origins of Rubbing as a Means to Keep Ancient Text

In neighboring China, the method of rubbing was discovered by the beginning of the 7th century AD or perhaps even earlier. With the use of paper and ink, the Chinese were able to make multiple copies of old inscribed records accurately and easily.

The first plant printing found on paper can be found on a Syrian manuscript dating back to the early 1100s AD. And as you’ll soon see, eventually the Japanese took the artform to include other natural objects, such as fish.

Compared to the two examples above, it may be said that Gyotaku was a newcomer to the practice of producing imprints with the use of the rubbing technique . Nevertheless, this traditional Japanese art is special in its own way.

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Red Snapper. Gyotaku on canvas. (Tom Hart/ CC BY 2.0 )

One of the most popular Gyotaku artists today is Naoki Hayashi , an artist from Hawaii who creates beautiful designs with the ‘fish art’. Although his work is impressive, Hayashi’s understanding of how to go about creating traditional gyotaku is relatively simple: “catch it, print it, and eat it.” As Hayashi told Atlas Obscura : “Sometimes people call their work gyotaku without having all those three main components. But that’s not gyotaku. All the value and meaning behind it is brushed aside, not appreciated.”

How did Gyotaku Begin? Two Theories

The Chinese use of the rubbing method, for instance, was used primarily for making imprints of inscriptions and man-made art forms, including inscriptions (or carvings) on rock faces or cliffs, pictorial reliefs, and bronze vessels and figurines. The Japanese art Gyotaku, on the other hand, is more nature-oriented, as it was the fish that became the subject and material of this art form.

It has been speculated that Gyotaku did not originally begin as an art form however, but instead as a means of recording a fisherman’s catch. This technique may have been first used by Japanese fishermen who wanted to make a record of the size and species of fish they caught.

According to another story, an emperor of Japan wanted to keep an accurate account of all his catches, and commissioned prints to be made of the different types of fish that he caught.

Regardless of the origins, eventually the purpose of Gyotaku changed from being a practical means of recording one’s catches to a cherished art form.

How to Do Gyotaku

The materials required for Gyotaku are simple – a fish, paper, ink or paint, and brushes. In the past, this art used fish that were freshly caught. Today, however, rubber replicas may be used to replace real fish.

Additionally, in the past, a non-toxic type of ink called sumi ink (which consists mainly of soot and animal glue) was used. This meant that after the imprint was made, the fish could then be cleaned, cooked, and eaten.

Gyotaku imprint using ink. ( CC BY SA 2.0 )

There are two methods of Gyotaku – an indirect method (known as kansetsu-ho), and a direct method (known as chokusetsu-ho). For the first method, wet paper is molded directly onto the fish. By fastening the paper down, all the details are picked up when the ink is applied. The paper is then left to dry and carefully removed.

Compared to the indirect method, however, the direct method is much faster, and is capable of producing multiple images. Instead of pressing a moistened sheet of paper onto the fish, ink (or paint) is first applied onto its body. After that, a sheet of paper is placed over it, and pressed gently to pick up the fish’s details. The paper is then peeled back, and a mirror image of the animal is produced.

Gyotaku with the indirect method. (Ron Wong/ CC BY NC 2.0 )

The Expansion of Gyotaku for Art and Education

Although Gyotaku began as simple black ink prints with a practical purpose, it later developed into an art form when rich colors and environmental details were added. Today, the art of Gyotaku is still being practiced in Japan and it has spread to other parts of the world as well.

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Many fishing villages still use gyotaku in its utilitarian form today. There are also some annual events, such as one in Osaka, where fishermen compete for the most impressive gyotaku prints.

In addition to being a fine art, some people have also used Gyotaku for educational purposes. For example, while people are producing their fish imprints, they can also be taught about basic fish anatomy, the way they move in the water, and perhaps even the adaptations made by their bodies to survive in the environments they live in.

Gyotaku. (Nora Gomez-Strauss/ CC BY ND 2.0 )

Thus, Gyotaku is an example where the arts and science can complement each other as printmakers find peace and creativity while learning in educational settings and even in rehabilitation programs in some prisons.

Smithsonian Associates

Smithsonian Associates Streaming presents surprising stories behind the jewels in the Smithsonian National Gem Collection. (Hope Diamond, Chip Clark)

Smithsonian Associates Streaming continues through May with individual programs, multi-part courses, studio arts classes and virtual study tours produced by the world’s largest museum-based educational program.

Saturday, May 1

Introduction to Lightroom: Adobe Lightroom is the most useful (and user friendly) software for organizing and editing images, usable for both RAW and JPEG image files. This two-session workshop offers users an overview of the program, with a focus on working with the essential Library and Develop modules for organizing and editing your files. 9:30 a.m. ET $275-$295

Flash Quilt Stories: Inspired by the 6-Word Memoir Project, learn to capture quick images of personal stories in quilted wall-hangings. 1:30 p.m. ET $45-$55

Monday, May 3

African Art and the Slave Trade: The trauma of the slave trade forever altered Africa’s cultural history. Art historian Kevin Tervala examines the Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades, with a focus on how African artists—and the societies that they were a part of—reacted to the sudden and brutal disruption and transformation and depopulation of the world’s second-largest continent. He also highlights how the slave trade simultaneously brought great wealth, and with it, luxurious arts made in silver and gold. Smithsonian World Art History Certificate enrollees receive 1/2 credit. 6:45 p.m. ET $20-$25

The Joy of Photography: Designed for beginners who want to learn how to use their digital or mirrorless camera as a creative tool, students will gain skill in technical aspects of photography so that they can concentrate on composing beautiful images. 6:30 p.m. ET $165-$185

Wednesday, May 5

Pioneering Women in Architecture: During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the emerging profession of architecture in America was very much a man’s world—but talented and tenacious women created doorways into it. Lecturer Bill Keene examines the notable careers of three of those pioneers and their importance in the development of the field. 7 p.m. ET $25-$30

CULINASIA: Saving Chinatown and Our Legacies: In the Covid era, anti-Asian racism and violence has been widespread, and many Asian restaurants both large and small have permanently closed their doors. Why are the survival of Chinese restaurants and the preservation of the legacy of Asian food in America so essential to the soul of our cities? In a free program, a panel of chefs, advocates, and activists discuss the future of Chinatowns across the country. 6:30 p.m. ET Free, registration is required.

Thursday, May 6

Introduction to Watercolor: Beginning students as well as experienced painters explore watercolor techniques and learn new approaches to painting through demonstration, discussion and experimentation. 12 p.m. ET $245-$275

Three Ordinary Girls: Women Resistance Fighters in WWII Netherlands: Explore the Netherlands’ resistance during World War II through the amazing story of three young women whose duties included explosive sabotage and face-to-face assassinations. 12 p.m. ET $20-$25

Friday, May 7

Wherever I May Rhône: Spend a fascinating Friday evening expanding your knowledge of the world of wine as you sip along with sommelier Erik Segelbaum in a series of delectable adventures. This immersive program showcases Rhône Valley wines and includes a curated personal tasting kit to enhance the experience. 6 p.m. ET $65-$75

Before cameras, Japanese fishermen used this technique to document a big catch when they were out at sea: They applied sumi ink to a fish, pressed it to newspaper, and then rinsed the fish in the water so it could be eaten. Smithsonian Associates presents a studio arts workshop "Gyotaku: The Japanese Art of Printing with Fish" on May 8. (Sue Fierston)

Saturday, May 8

Gyotaku: The Japanese Art of Printing with Fish: Using direct printing and water-based printing inks, create realistic looking schools of fish or a single artistic print simply by inking a whole fish and pressing it to paper. 10 a.m. ET $75-$85

Emerging Safari Destinations of the World: Virtual Safaris with Russell Gammon: Cutting-edge ecotourism companies are pioneering small-group safaris to new destinations that offer unique wildlife encounters for adventurous travelers. Join wilderness guide and wildlife photographer Russell Gammon for a series of virtual safaris to hidden corners of Africa, Asia, and South America in search of some of the rarest and most iconic creatures on the planet. 10 a.m. ET $65

Monday, May 10

Lunchtime with a Curator: Decorative Arts Design Series: Curator Elizabeth Lay welcomes jewelry expert Sheila Smithie for an examination of several visionary French women who exercised their extraordinary creative powers in the 1920s and 1930s to transform jewelry design. A “virtual hands-on” session offers the next best thing to examining the jewels under a loupe in person. 12 p.m. ET $20-$25

Tuesday, May 11

Write Into Art: Creative Writing Inspired by Visual Art: Discover how visual art can inspire creative writing that offers a powerful way to experience art. Join Mary Hall Surface of the National Gallery of Art’s popular Writing Salon for a series of workshops that explore essential elements of writing and styles through close looking, word-sketching, and imaginative response to prompts. This session focuses on Japanese-American artist Kenjiro Nomura’s The Farm. 10 a.m. ET $40-$45

Wednesday, May 12

Moviegoing in America: Nickelodeons to Movie Palaces to IMAX to Streaming: A fascinating look at the history of movie theaters examines how the experience of moviegoing has changed over the decades—and whether movie theaters will even survive in the age of streaming services. 12 p.m. ET $20-$25

Thursday, May 13

Spaces of Remembrance: Revisiting the Memorials of Washington, D.C.: Kathleen Bashian, a certified master guide in Washington and a popular Smithsonian study leader, leads a virtual memorial pilgrimage through the city, examining the aesthetics of memorials as works of art and architecture, their origins, and their impact on contemporary visitors. 12 p.m. ET $25-$30

Friday, May 14

The Waltz: Music, Sex, Society, and Politics in Three-Quarter Time: Blossoming in Vienna and spreading like a mania through Europe, the waltz proclaimed a new freedom of sexual expression and individual liberties in the early 19th century. Classical music and opera expert Saul Lilienstein traces the development of a musical form and a dance that changed history. 10 a.m. ET $80-$90

Saturday, May 15

iPhone Photography II: Take your iPhone camera skills to another level in a two-day workshop that focuses on the ProCamera app and editing techniques organizing, printing, and posting your photos and a critique session on images. 10 a.m. ET $75-$95

Sunday, May 16

Great Horned Owls: Fleet and Mysterious: The Great Horned Owl is found in every state except Hawaii and in almost every habitat. In a series of talks rich in audio clips, photos, and video, naturalist Mark H.X. Glenshaw presents another in-depth study of this magnificent creature. This session focuses on the owl's hunting and feeding habits. 1:30 p.m. ET $20-$25

Tuesday, May 18

Greek Heroes and Art: Achilles: Art historian Renee Gondek focuses on visual depictions of the iconic hero of the Trojan War, Achilles, to examine how the most famous of epic narratives from Classical mythology inspired centuries of creators and cultures. Smithsonian World Art History Certificate enrollees receive 1/2 credit. 12 p.m. ET $20-$25

Jeffrey Post, curator of the U.S. National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum reveals the scandals, mysteries and human stories behind the world’s most famous gems in a Smithsonian Associates Streaming program on May 18.

The Smithsonian National Gem Collection Unearthed: The National Museum of Natural History’s magnificent gems represent a glittering intersection of natural science, human history, culture, romance, artistic skill, and creativity—set against the allure of immense value and awesome beauty. Jeffrey Post, curator of the U.S. National Gem and Mineral Collection, reveals the scandals, mysteries, and human stories behind some of the world’s most famous gems. 6:45 p.m. ET $20-$25

Endangered UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Palmyra: There are 1,121 UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout the world. Guided by Justin M. Jacobs, associate professor of history at American University, this series focuses on four of these sites that have suffered grievous damage in recent decades, from Palmyra to the Great Barrier Reef. The first session focuses on Palmyra. 6:45 p.m. ET $25

Tamika D. Mallory: State of Emergency: Drawing on themes from her new book State of Emergency: How We Win in the Country We Built (Atria/Black Privilege Publishing), activist and social justice leader Tamika D. Mallory is joined in a roundtable discussion about racial inequality by actor and comedian Tiffany Haddish, model and activist Emily Ratajkowski, and April Ryan, White House Correspondent, CNN Political Analyst, and D.C. Bureau Chief for TheGrio, who serves as moderator. 6:45 p.m. ET $50

Wednesday, May 19

Dante Without Footnotes: What keeps Dante’s Divine Comedy still meaningful today, even though it was written seven centuries ago? Explore Dante’s epic poem in all its cultural and historical richness—without the need of footnotes—and discover the ways his timeless wisdom and insights can enhance our everyday lives. 6:30 p.m. ET $20-$25

CULINASIA: Southeast Asia Got Something to Say: Opening a Southeast Asian restaurant, bar, or food business was always an uphill battle. How can they keep their doors open during a global pandemic with the doubly stacked odds of anti-Asian racism at an all-time high? In a free program, learn how a panel of Southeast Asian chefs and restaurateurs from across the country are meeting the moment. 6:30 p.m. ET Free, registration is required.

Jake Tapper: The Devil May Dance: CNN anchor Jake Tapper called on his inside knowledge of Washington’s workings to write his newest period political thriller The Devil May Dance, in which Congressman Charlie Marder and his wife Margaret find themselves launched into the dark side of 1960s Hollywood on a dangerous assignment from Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Join him as he discusses mixing politicos and the Rat Pack in his book, as well as his work covering the non-fictional Washington. 6:45 p.m. ET $25-$30

Thursday, May 20

Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt's Roaring '20s: During the 1920s and 1930s, Cairo’s lively music, theater, film and cabaret scene was dominated by women who were entrepreneurs and owners as well as celebrities. Discover the rich histories of the independent figures who offered a new vision for women in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. 6:45 p.m. ET $20-$25

Friday, May 21

The Flavors of Maryland: Maryland’s long history, diverse inhabitants, varied landscapes and of course, the Chesapeake Bay have contributed to a delicious cornucopia of foods and culinary traditions. Explore the state’s signature flavors, both familiar and unique, from the Appalachians of western Maryland to the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore. 10 a.m. ET $25-$30

Why have Americans returned to the war to find answers in their present? On May 22 historian Stephen D. Engle traces 150 years of an ever-changing narrative of the Civil War and why we still struggle to reach an acceptable version of its legacy.

Saturday, May 22

The Civil War in Perspective: Our Evolving Story: No event has altered the United States more profoundly than the American Civil War. Yet the question remains: Why have Americans returned to the war to find answers in their present? Historian Stephen D. Engle traces 150 years of an ever-changing narrative of the Civil War and why we still struggle to reach an acceptable version of its legacy. 9:30 a.m. ET $80-$90

Shakespeare: The Music Behind the Movies: “The play’s the thing” declared Hamlet, but nowadays he could easily have substituted “the film.” Speaker and concert pianist Rachel Franklin combines commentary and piano demonstrations to explore how master composers such as William Walton, Nino Rota, Patrick Doyle and others illuminate Shakespeare’s texts while helping us relate emotionally to his astonishing stories on the screen. 10:30 a.m. ET $50-$60

Sunday, May 23

The Ancient Art of Henna Tattoos: Henna tattoos reflect an ancient and beautiful practice of body art. Explore the form’s history as you learn to apply simple traditional Indian henna designs. 1 p.m. ET $45-$55

Tuesday, May 25

England's Historic Royal Palaces: A Step Inside: Join Historic Royal Palaces guide Siobhan Clarke for a virtual look inside four great historic royal palaces. Using maps, paintings, photographs and music, Clarke introduces the splendid corridors of royal power and pleasure. 12 p.m. ET $80-$90

The Smithsonian Associates Streaming series "Endangered UNESCO World Heritage Sites" begins in May with an in-depth overview of four sites that have suffered grievous damage in recent decades from Palmyra (pictured) to the Great Barrier Reef.

Japan reports more earthquakes than any other country in the world. It can experience dozens of small earthquakes each month. Larger earthquakes, which cause infrastructural damage or tsunami, are much more rare, but devastating when they do happen.

Aside from favorites loved around the world, such as edamame (soybeans), sushi, and miso, there are a lot of uniquely Japanese dishes even the most adventurous foodie might need coaxing to try. Natto, anyone?

Chinese Carp Art

China is the ancestral home of carp art, and where koi and traditional Japanese carp art (especially the early paintings) draws much of its inspiration. To the Chinese people, the carp is a symbol of perseverance, strength, and endurance. In many Chinese folktales, the carp is considered an incarnation of the dragon that brings happiness and wealth to those whose path it crosses.

Also, with its long whiskers and scales, the carp is said to physically resemble a dragon. In fact, one of the most popular Chinese carp motifs is a carp(s) swimming toward a waterfall and transforming into a dragon. This motif is based on an ancient Chinese legend about carp who swim upstream in the Yellow River toward the mythical Dragon&aposs Gate at the top of a giant legendary mountain. Those few carp who swim up the waterfall and through the gate are changed into dragons. To this day there exists a saying in China: "lǐ​ yú​ tiào​ lóng ​mén" ("鲤鱼跳龙门"), or "The carp has leaped through the dragon&aposs gate." This saying is often used for students who pass their university exams, or people in general who work hard at a task and succeed beyond their wildest expectations.

Some other common carp motifs in Chinese art include yin yang carp (with a black and red carp forming the two sides of the yin yang symbol), carp swimming among lotus flowers (a sacred Buddhist symbol that represents mental harmony), and a group of nine carp (with nine being considered a lucky number by the Chinese) swimming together.

The carp can be found in many kinds of Chinese artwork, including scroll paintings, ink paintings, ceramics, and more.

"Carp leaping up a cascade" by Katsushika Hokusai. Notice the incredible detail in this painting, including the droplets of water splashing around!

In Japan, the largest holiday is the New Year’s celebration. During spring and summer, celebrations for the gods of the land and sea, or Matsuri, take place. Each town holds its own Matsuri, and these celebrations are widely attended by all.

Sports play a significant role in Japanese culture. Sumo, judo and karate are traditional Japanese sports and baseball, soccer and rugby have been adopted from other cultures.

Sumo is the national sport of Japan and to this day is primarily practiced only in Japan. Modern sumo was formed during the Edo era and little has changed since. Baseball is the most-watched sport in the country. It was first introduced to the country in 1872 and has grown in popularity ever since.


The development of painting during the Edo period drew energy from innovations and changes precipitated during the Momoyama period. Thematic interests, including Confucian subjects and a continuing fascination with Japanese classical themes, were already apparent in the years preceding national consolidation. Genre themes celebrating urban life became more focused during the Edo period as depictions of the activities in the pleasure quarters. The Neo-Confucian culture of the Edo period and its related influence in visual arts harked back to Muromachi period fascination with things Chinese. Experiments in realism, significantly influenced by exposure to Western models, produced major new painting lineages. Particularly distinctive of the period was the increase in the number of important individualist artists and of artists whose eclectic training could meet the demands of varied patronage.

The Kanō school of painters expanded and functioned as a kind of “official” Japanese painting academy. Many painters who would later begin their own stylistic lineages or function as independent and eclectic artists received their initial training in some Kanō atelier. Kanō Sanraku, whose bold patterning came closest among the early Kanō painters to touching the tastes stimulated by Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu with their courtly revival style, provided a link to the generative energies that launched the school to its initial position of prominence. Kanō Tanyū solidified the dominant position of the Kanō school and significantly directed the thematic interests of the atelier. In a sense, the Kanō artists became the official visual propagandists of the Tokugawa government. Many of their works stressed Confucian themes of filial piety, justice, and correctly ordered society. Tanyū was not only the leading painter of the school but was also extremely influential as a connoisseur and theorist. Tanyū’s notebooks containing his comments and sketches of observed paintings are a major historical source. His graceful ink and light colour rendering of Jizō Bosatsu reveals brush mastery and a thoroughly familiar, playful consideration of a Buddhist image. The youthful features of the deity are conveyed as at once fleshy and ethereal. The image is decidedly different from the gentle but stately renditions of the Kamakura period.

Two painting lineages explored the revival of interest in courtly taste: one was a consolidation of a group descending from Sōtatsu, and the other, the Tosa school, claimed descent from the imperial painting studios of the Heian times. The interpretations offered by the collaboration of Kōetsu and Sōtatsu in the late Momoyama period developed into a distinctive style called rinpa, an acronym linking the second syllable of the name of Ōgata Kōrin, the leading proponent of the style in the Edo period, and ha (pa), meaning “school” or “group.” Sōtatsu himself was active into the 1640s, and his pupils carried on his distinctive rendering of patterned images of classical themes. Like Sōtatsu, Kōrin emerged from the Kyōto trades as the scion of a family of textile designers. His paintings are notable for an intensification of the flat design quality and abstract colour patterns explored by Sōtatsu and for a use of lavish materials. His homage to the Yatsu-hashi episode from the Tales of Ise is seen in a pair of screens featuring an iris marsh traversed by eight footbridges that is described in the story. Kōrin attempted this subject, with and without reference to the bridges, on several occasions and in other media, including lacquerwork. Classical literature had imbued popular culture to the extent that this single visual reference would be easily recognized by viewers of the period, permitting Kōrin to evoke a familiar mood or emotion without having to depict a specific plot incident. Other notable exponents of the rinpa style in the later years of the Edo period were Sakai Hōitsu and Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858).

The Tosa school, a hereditary school of court painters, experienced a period of revival thanks to the exceptional talents and political acuity of Tosa Mitsuoki. Mitsuoki’s patronage connections to the imperial household, still residing in Kyōto, provided him with an appreciative aristocratic audience for his refined narrative evocations of Heian themes and styles. A pair of screens depicting spring-flowering cherry and autumn maple strike a melancholy chord. Attached to branches of the trees are decorated slips of paper bearing classical poems inscribed by the unseen participants in traditional court outings to celebrate the seasons. The allusion to past literary glory and to a poetry party recently dispersed suggests the mood of the court now resigned to ceremonial roles under the Tokugawa dictatorship. The Tosa atelier was active throughout the Edo period. An offshoot of the school, the Sumiyoshi painters Jokei (1599–1670) and his son Gukei (1631–1705), produced distinctive and sprightly renderings of classical subjects. In the first half of the 19th century, a group of painters, including Reizei Tamechika, explored ancient painting sources and offered a revival of Yamato-e style. Some, but not all, of the painters in this circle were politically active supporters of the imperial or royalist cause.

In addition to the Kanō, rinpa, and Tosa styles of painting, which all originated in earlier periods, several new types of painting developed during the Edo period. These can be loosely classified into two categories: the individualist, or eccentric, style and the bunjin-ga, or literati painting. The individualist painters were influenced by nontraditional sources such as Western painting and scientific studies of nature, and they frequently employed unexpected themes or techniques to create unique works reflecting their often unconventional personalities.

A lineage that formed under the genius of Maruyama Ōkyo might be summarily described as lyrical realism. Yet his penchant for nature studies, whether of flora and fauna or human anatomy, and his subtle incorporation of perspective and shading techniques learned from Western examples perhaps better qualify him to be noted as the first of the great eclectic painters. In addition to nurturing a talented group of students who continued his identifiable style into several succeeding generations, Ōkyo’s studio also raised the incorrigible Nagasawa Rosetsu, an individualist noted for instilling a haunting preternatural quality to his works, whether landscape, human, or animal studies. Yet another of Ōkyo’s associates was Matsumura Goshun. Goshun’s career again suggests the increasingly fluid and creative disposition of Edo period ateliers. Originally a follower of the literati painter and poet Yosa Buson, Goshun, confounded by his master’s death and other personal setbacks, joined with Ōkyo. Goshun’s quick and witty brushwork adjusted to the softer, more polished Ōkyo style but retained an overall individuality. He and his students are known as the Shijō school, for the street on which Goshun’s studio was located, or, in recognition of Ōkyo’s influence, as the Maruyama-Shijō school. Other notable individualists of the 18th century included Soga Shōhaku, an essentially itinerant painter who was an eccentric interpreter of Chinese themes in figure and landscape conveyed in a frequently dark and foreboding mood. Itō Jakuchū, son of a prosperous Kyōto vegetable merchant, was an independent master of both ink and polychrome forms. His paintings in either mode often convey the rich, densely patterned texture of produce arrayed in a market.

The other new style of painting, bunjin-ga, is also called nan-ga (“southern painting”) because it developed from the so-called Chinese Southern school of painting. The Chinese connoisseur and painter Dong Qichang (1555–1636), in expounding his theory of the history of Chinese painting, posited a dichotomy between Northern conservative, professional painting and the Southern heterodox, expressive, and free styles. The argument, which was highly polemical and overgeneralized, nevertheless promoted the ideal of the learned scholar-gentleman who had no pecuniary or political interests and was unintimidated by the overly polished and spiritless examples of professional painting. The idiosyncratic Southern style of painting was proposed as one of the accomplishments of the literatus amateur. This notion of the true Confucian scholar ideal had exponents in 17th-century Japan who found the Neo-Confucianism promulgated by the shogunal authorities to be suspect and politically skewed. The Japanese understanding of the literati aesthetic was significantly influenced, however, by the final wave of Zen Buddhist monks who fled to Japan after the Manchu takeover of China in 1644. Monks of the Ōbaku Zen sect did not arrive on the scale of previous Zen immigrations to Japan, but they did bring a consistent point of contact and numerous examples of contemporary Chinese art (albeit of varying quality) for interested Japanese literati aspirants and artists to study.

While the amateur ideal was pursued by many Japanese bunjin, the most remarkable of the ink monochrome or ink and light colour works were created by artists who, although generally attempting to conform to a bunjin lifestyle, were actually professionals in that they supported themselves by producing and selling their painting, poetry, and calligraphy. Especially notable artists from this tradition include the 18th-century masters Ike Taiga and Buson. Some of Taiga’s most compelling works treat landscape themes and the melding of certain aspects of Western realism with the personal expressiveness characteristic of the Chinese bunjin ideal. Buson is remembered as both a distinguished poet and a painter. Frequently combining haiku and tersely brushed images, Buson offered the viewer jarring, highly allusive, and complementary readings of a complex emotional matrix. Uragami Gyokudō achieved movements of near abstraction with shimmering, kinetic, personalized readings of nature. Tani Bunchō produced paintings of great power in the Chinese mode but in a somewhat more polished and representational style. He was a marked individualist and served the shogun by applying his talents to topographical drawings used for national defense purposes. Bunchō’s student Watanabe Kazan was an official representing his daimyo in Edo. Through his interest in intellectual and artistic reform, he perhaps came the closest to exemplifying classic literati ideals. His accomplishments in portraiture are especially significant and reveal his keen study of Western techniques. In a conflict with the shogunate over issues ultimately relating to Japan’s posture toward the international community, Kazan was imprisoned and then took his own life.

Artist Turns an Ancient Japanese Battle Painting Into an Energetic Animation

Have you ever looked at a landscape painting and imagined it coming to life? Japanese videographer Yusuke Shigeta decided to transform an ancient artwork into an animation that now looks like something from a video game. His work is titled Sekigahara-Sansui-zu-Byobu (Folding Screen of Painted Sekigahara Landscapes) and is based on a 17th-century multi-panel screen that depicts the Battle of Sekigahara.

One of the most important wars in Japanese history, the Battle of Sekigahara took place during the Sengoku period on October 21, 1600, in what is now Gifu prefecture. All told, 160,000 men faced each other the samurai warriors of Tokugawa Ieyasu against a coalition of Toyotomi loyalist clans. The Tokugawa troops won, leading to the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan for another two and a half centuries until 1868.

Inspired by this moment in history, Shigeta based his artwork on an ancient, multi-panel screen that depicts the battle. The original artwork was made in the 1620s and belonged to the Lord Ii of Hikone. A replica made in 1854 illustrates the details of the bloody battle, and even in its still composition, there&rsquos the sense of movement. Shigeta further brings the scene to life by transforming the 19th-century painting into a digitally animated loop.

For Sekigahara-Sansui-zu-Byobu, Shigeta used pixel animation to reconstruct the battle, just as it&rsquos depicted on the folding screen. Viewers can watch as the tiny samurai figures charge towards each other on horses and by foot before using their swords to battle it out. In other parts of the composition, figures are depicted navigating the ancient landscape and working to protect their territory. Even the clouds and rivers are animated to look as though they&rsquore moving just as they would in real life.

Check out Shigeta&rsquos work below, and if you want to experience it up-close, you can visit it in Chubu Centrair International Airport&lsquos Culture Gate to Japan exhibition.


The eyes of fish resemble human eyes (Fig. 4.29). At the front of each eye is a lens, held in place by a suspensory ligament. The lens focuses images of objects on the retina. To bring near and far objects into focus, the lens retractor muscle moves the lens back and forth.

The retina is a light-sensitive membrane rich in nerves that connect to the optic lobes of the brain by optic nerves. When light shines on the nerves of the retina, the optic nerves send impulses to the optic lobes. Because fish have no eyelids, their eyes are always open.

Some elasmobranchs, and most teleost fishes, have color vision. Some fishes can also see in ultraviolet (UV) light. UV vision is especially useful for reef fishes. UV vision helps fishes in foraging, communication, and mate selection.

Elasmobranchs, and some teleosts, also have a tapetum lucidum. The tapetum lucidum is a shiny, reflective structure that reflects light and helps vision in low light situations. The tapetum lucidum is what makes the eyes of sharks and deep sea fish, as well as land mammals like cats and cows, shine at night.

Fish eyes are usually placed just dorsal of and above the mouth. Just like the mouth of a fish, the size, shape, and position of the eyes can provide information about where a fish lives and what it feeds on. For example, fish predators often have eyes facing forward in order to provide better depth perception. Prey fish, on the other hand, often have eyes on the sides of their bodies. This gives them a larger field of view for avoiding predators. (Table 4.12).

Table 4.12. Fish form and function: Eye Features

Eye Diagram Description Adapted Function
Tiny eyes, head length approximately six times longer than eye width Receiving high intensity light
Large eyes, head length approximately three times longer than eye width Receiving low intensity light or spotting predators
Average eyes head length three to five times longer than eye width Receiving normal intensity light
Tubular eyes Receiving low light from above often in deep water
Eyes on dorsal side of the fish Seeing above

7. Bobbit Worms Can Secretly Wreak Havoc in Aquariums

Just like the nearly 10-foot undetected bobbit worm found in a Japanese aquaculture pen, bobbit worms have been found hiding out in aquariums, too. In 2009, an aquarium in the U.K. discovered a 4-foot-long bobbit worm in one of their tanks. The bobbit worm attacked a number of prized fish before its discovery. On another occasion, a home aquarist found a bobbit worming hiding in his fish tank. In both cases, the bobbit worm broke into multiple pieces when handled. Even when separated, the bobbit worm pieces appeared to still be alive.

Hokusai (1760-1849)

Katsushika Hokusai, Japan's best known artist, is ironically Japan's least Japanese artist. Japan's best known woodblock print, The Great Wave , is very un-Japanese. Welcome to the artist often known as Hokusai.

Hokusai (1760-1849) lived during the Tokugawa period (1600 to 1867). In a Japan of traditional Confucian values and feudal regimentation, Hokusai was a thoroughly Bohemian artist: cocky, quarrelsome, restless, aggressive, and sensational. He fought with his teachers and was often thrown out of art schools. As a stubborn artistic genius, he was single-mindedly obsessed with art. Hokusai left over 30,000 works, including silk paintings, woodblock prints, picture books, manga, travel illustrations, erotic illustrations, paintings, and sketches. Some of his paintings were public spectacles which measured over 200 sq. meters (2,000 sq. feet.) He didn't care much for being sensible or social respect he signed one of his last works as "The Art-Crazy Old Man". In his 89 years, Hokusai changed his name some thirty times (Hokusai wasn't his real name) and lived in at least ninety homes. We laugh and recognize him as an artist, but wait, that's because we see him as a Western artist, long before the West arrived in Japan.

"From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs. but all I have done before the the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I'll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self 'The Old Man Mad About Drawing." -- Hokusai

Hokusai started out as a art student of woodblocks and paintings. During the 600-year Shogun period, Japan had sealed itself off from the rest of the world. Contact with Western culture was forbidden. Nevertheless, Hokusai discovered and studied the European copper-plate engravings that were being smuggled into the country. Here he learned about shading, coloring, realism, and landscape perspective. He introduced all of these elements into woodblock and ukiyo-e art and thus revolutionized and invigorated Japanese art.

Although Chinese and Japanese paintings had been using long distance landscape views for 1,500 years, this style had never entered the woodblock print. Ukiyo-e woodblocks were produced for bourgeoisie city gentry who wanted images of street life, sumo wrestlers, and geishas. The countryside and peasants were ignored.

What was the influence on Hokusai? Here's an example of Dutch landscape art:

Philips Koninck, (1619-1688, Amsterdam)

In Holland in the late 1500s, artists such as Claes Jansz Visscher and Willem Buytewech developed landscape art, which focused on topographically-correct landscape representation. Landscape art reached its peak between 1630 and 1660 through Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Jan van Goyen. By the late 1700s, these Dutch paintings had become so common that the etchings were used as cheap illustrations. Dutch merchants smuggled their goods into Japan. These wares were often wrapped in paper that had been illustrated with these etchings. For Hokusai and other artists, the thrown-away wrappers were more interesting than the imports.

Hokusai learned from Dutch and French pastoral landscapes with their perspective, shading, and realistic shadows and turned them into Japanese landscapes. More importantly, he introduced the serenity of nature and the unity of man and his surroundings into Japanese popular art. Instead of shoguns, samurai, and their geishas, which were the common topics of Japanese illustrative art at the time, Hokusai placed the common man into his woodblocks, moving the emphasis away from the aristocrats and to the rest of humanity. In The Great Wave, tiny humans are tossed around under giant waves, while enormous Mt. Fuji is a hill in the distance.

The Breaking Wave Off Kanagawa . Also called The Great Wave. Woodblock print from Hokusai's series Thirty-six Views of Fuji, which are the high point of Japanese prints. The original is at the Hakone Museum in Japan.

Hokusai's most famous picture and easily Japan's most famous image is a seascape with Mt. Fuji. The waves form a frame through which we see Mt. Fuji in the distance. Hokusai loved to depict water in motion: the foam of the wave is breaking into claws which grasp for the fishermen. The large wave forms a massive yin to the yang of empty space under it. The impending crash of the wave brings tension into the painting. In the foreground, a small peaked wave forms a miniature Mt. Fuji, which is repeated hundreds of miles away in the enormous Mt. Fuji which shrinks through perspective the wavelet is larger than the mountain. Instead of shoguns and nobility, we see tiny fishermen huddled into their sleek crafts as they slide down a wave and dive straight into the next wave to get to the other side. The yin violence of Nature is counterbalanced by the yang relaxed confidence of expert fishermen. Although it's a sea storm, the sun is shining.

To Westerners, this woodblock seems to be the quintessential Japanese image, yet it's quite un-Japanese. Traditional Japanese would have never painted lower-class fishermen (at the time, fishermen were one of the lowest and most despised of Japanese social classes) Japanese ignored nature they would not have used perspective they wouldn't have paid much attention to the subtle shading of the sky. We like the woodblock print because it's familiar to us. The elements of this Japanese pastoral painting originated in Western art: it includes landscape, long-distance perspective, nature, and ordinary humans, all of which were foreign to Japanese art at the time. The Giant Wave is actually a Western painting, seen through Japanese eyes.

Hokusai didn't merely use Western art. He transformed Dutch pastoral paintings by adding the Japanese style of flattening and the use of color surfaces as a element. By the the 1880's, Japanese prints were the rage in Western culture and Hokusai's prints were studied by young European artists, such as Van Gogh, Renoir, and Whistler, in a style called Japonaiserie. You can also notice his influence in the art movements of Jugendstil in Germany and Art Noveau in France, which use flattening and texture. Thus Western painting returned to the West.

The Great Wave is from Hokusai's later years. He did a similar work many years before:

Fuji Seen From the Sea . 1834. Woodblock. From the series A Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji.

In this wave, the foam breaks up into a flock of birds. This wave is quite humorous it disperses itself into wind. Without the boats and the width of the other print, this work is not as dramatic. The tension of the sea is drawn out through lines up the side of the wave.

Peonies and Canary. Woodblock.
National Museum at Tokyo.
Click for larger image.

Before Hokusai, ukiyo-e artists such as Utamaro and Kunsai drew birds and flowers as illustrations in books. Hokusai was the first artist to make these bird-and-flower artworks primarily as prints.

Flock of Chickens. Woodblock. 1830-1844. National Museum at Tokyo.

With a swirl of plumes, the flock of roosters form a circle of motion, similar to many of Hokusai's water paintings. The birds are precise and realistic. The woodblock could be a technical illustration to a ornithologist's text on breeds of roosters. Hokusai was inspired by European scientific illustrations and the European respect for the beauty of Nature. The rooster at the right-middle has a very happy, contented expression. This is an example of Hokusai's bird-and-flowers illustrations.

The Hanging Lantern of Kaya Temple.
Woodblock. Collection of Shozaburo Watanabe.
Click for larger image.

This is an early example of Hokusai's landscapes. First of all, it's set at a real location, the Sumida River. The trees are done with chiarscuro shading in the European style. But it's not entirely realistic: the water's waves are still in the Chinese stylized fashion. The perspective is also wrong: the tail of the boat is higher than the houses behind it, and the boat appears to be above the house at the front of the illustration. Hokusai is still experimenting and learning various elements, and hasn't yet begun to unify them. Note the playful extension of the birdhouse out of the picture at the upper left.

Sunset over Ryogoku Bridge.
From 36 Views of Mt. Fuji. Woodblock. Hakone Museum.
Click for larger image.

By the time Hokusai began his Mt. Fuji series, he was able to unify vast persepectives into calm paintings. Here, a boatload of passangers gaze at Mt. Fuji, in a quiet, plebian scene of ordinary people in their daily life. This realism is Hokusai's unique contribution to Japanese art. This print is from the 1840s, when Hokusai was already in his 70s and fully developed in his artistic skill.

Sangi Takamura. Women diving for abalone.
From Hundred Poems Explained by a Nurse. Woodblock. National Museum, Tokyo.
Click for larger image.

This is from the late 1840s. A group of women dive for abalone.
Click the image and study the women at the lower left in the large version. They are interlaced through waves and water.

Courtesan. Painting on silk. 1812-1821.
Collection of Moshichi Yoshiara.
Click for larger image.

The courtesan is almost buried the weight of her luxuriously textured and detailed kimono. Hokusai pays attention to precision and detail of the cloth. The important issue is the flattening of surfaces and the use of color fields. This became a major influence on Western artists in the late 1800s into the 1900s.

Fighting Cocks. Painting on silk.
Hakone Museum.
Click for larger image.

Hokusai also did freehand paintings on paper and silk. Very few Japanese artists were able to work in both woodblock and painting. Note the rooster's very proud and agressive stance.

Hokusai Manga. Sketch on paper.

Hokusai also drew thousands of small sketches. These are called Manga in Japanese. There are more than 15 volumes of Hokusai manga. The fisherman and his load of tuna are delicately drawn in three-dimensional perspective.

For more about Hokusai

An Animation of Hokusai

Tony White animated a number of Hokusai prints. Watch this and you'll see how Hokusai has influenced so much of our modern culture.

Watch the video: Συντήρηση έργων τέχνης


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