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Gyotaku: The ancient Japanese art of printing fish – K. Erica Dodge

Gyotaku: The ancient Japanese art of printing fish – K. Erica Dodge


Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Jessica Ruby How big was that fish you caught? This big? This big? This big? Without photographic evidence, there’s nothing that proves you caught a whopper, and that’s been true since the dawn of fishing. In fact, hundreds of years ago, long before photography could capture the moment, Japanese fishermen invented their own way to record trophy catches. They called it Gyotaku. Gyotaku is the ancient art of printing fish that originated in Japan as a way to record trophy catches prior to the modern day camera. Gyo means fish and taku means impression. There are several different stories about how Gyotaku came about, but it basically started with fishermen needing a way to record the species and size of the fish they caught over 100 years ago. Fishermen took paper, ink, and brushes out to sea with them. They told stories of great adventures at sea. Since the Japanese revered certain fish, the fishermen would take a rubbing from these fish and release them. To make the rubbing, they would paint the fish with non-toxic sumi-e ink and print them on rice paper. This way they could be released or cleaned and sold at market. The first prints like this were for records only with no extra details. It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that they began painting eye details and other embellishments onto the prints. One famous nobleman, Lord Sakai, was an avid fisherman, and, when he made a large catch, he wanted to preserve the memory of the large, red sea bream. To do so, he commissioned a fisherman to print his catch. After this, many fisherman would bring their Gyotaku prints to Lord Sakai, and if he liked their work, he would hire them to print for him. Many prints hung in the palace during the Edo period. After this period, Gyotaku was not as popular and began to fade away. Today, Gyotaku has become a popular art form, enjoyed by many. And the prints are said to bring good luck to the fishermen. But the art form is quite different than it used to be. Most artists today learn on their own by trial and error. Before the artist begins to print, the fish needs to be prepared for printing. First, the artist places the fish on a hollowed out surface. Then the artist spreads the fins out and pins them down on the board to dry. They then clean the fish with water. When it comes time to print, there are two different methods. The indirect method begins with pasting moist fabric or paper onto the fish using rice paste. Then, the artist uses a tompo, or a cotton ball covered in silk, to put ink on the fabric or paper to produce the print. This method requires more skill and great care needs to be taken when pulling the paper off the fish so the paper doesn’t tear. In the direct method, the artist paints directly on the fish, and then gently presses the moist fabric or paper into the fish. With both of these methods, no two prints are exactly alike, but both reveal dramatic images of the fish. For the final touch, the artist uses a chop, or a stamp, and signs their work, and can hold it up to say, “The fish was exactly this big!”

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100 thoughts on “Gyotaku: The ancient Japanese art of printing fish – K. Erica Dodge

  1. That's an awesome way of printing. It's the first time for me to hear that Japanese people, apart from the habit of eating fish, have the accustom of printing fish

  2. A fine job overall. Illustrative without being simplistic. As a practitioner, however, I would dispute the catch-print-and-release aspect. Flopping fish do not make for good prints.

    For excellent examples of the practice and for more information, go to natureprintingsociety(dot)org.

  3. the stereo-typical samarai attitude the cartoons bring to every mundane task makes me laugh. I just imagine the people in japan yell "Hiya!" when they wipe thier ass!
    On a serious note, I would have liked to see some actual prints.

  4. gyo as in gyoza. (please tell me you know how to say gyoza properly?)
    not gee-o. the first time she said it in the video it was WRONG. second time a bit better. Gyo as in one swift syllable. not two. not gee-o-taku. but GYOtaku. theres no english word i can think of =/
    it's not ぎお (gee-oh). it's ぎょ . there's a reason it has different characters.
    please please please google a japanese dictionary and hear the difference. I absolutely HATE americans mispronouncing french and japanese.

  5. as a correction: it's the one time on 0:48 which i'm talking about. PLEAAAAASE don't ever ever say it like this.

  6. I know french and am learning japanese so yeah I think I understand now where you are coming from. The reason I asked actually is because I thought she pronounced it right the first time. Then I realized you must be referring to the scene where she introduced the kanji, and yeah she pronounced it as how you described above, which is INACCURATE. As I'm still learning, I was just trying to get a confirmation. Thanks there!

  7. Thank you for introducing one of our culture.
    But 0:47 , this movie effect is unpleasnt for me.
    Because, the Chrysanthemum is Japanse Emperor's simbol, and you cut it…..
    Thank you.

  8. Old answer and thanks for reply and beautiful shark, what i'm more thinking is if the fish would be alive so it could be released again, that would be a challenge with a live shark on a small boat

  9. A simple (not to mention quality) print takes too long for a specimen to be alive through the whole thing. You also need to remove all the mucous from the skin (which would eventually kill the fish) and it probably wouldn't lay quietly as you ink it up and print. To do a catch, print, and release is not really on the table.

  10. You are completely right.
    But if you look at that segment frame by frame you would notice that Kiku is disappearing (getting smaller) before the cut/slash happens.

  11. You are completely right.
    But if you look at that segment frame by frame you would notice that Kiku is disappearing (getting smaller) before the cut/slash happens.

  12. Gyotaku originated in the mid-1800s, that's by definition not "ancient". The title of this video is thus plain out wrong and should be changed, since this channel is supposed to inform people, not spread misinformation.

  13. am i the only animal lover who thinks it's a little bit cruel to pin the fish, cover him with paper and press ink on him?

  14. I have noticed but they have been pronounced "edo" wrong. it sounds like they are saying "ayy-do" instead of "eh-do" the "eh" part said like a Canadian (no offence meant ). (In case you were wondering, yes I am Japanese and I have watched all of the videos about japan. )

  15. I wish fisher man didn't exist. 🎏 If they didn't all the fish would have the life of a normal fish. 🐟🐠🐡 Not be food. 🎣 I can't see why we don't see it as animal cruelty!? 🍥 After all. All times we kill animals for food they are getting killed. 🎐

  16. The ancient art was original, especially that the fish was released, but the new one is grotesque, as the fish has to die and it'll lead to people catching extra rare species and just spoiling them for fake art…

  17. How can this be harmless and "respectful" to the sacred fish if it involves pinning them down through their fins? or did they just not do that back then?

  18. I read Doreamon and i saw this kind of printing. However i didn't know about how exactly it is until now. Thank you for an awsome video :)))

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