Do You Know About Gyotaku? A Traditional Japanese Art Form Using Actual Fish!

  • In the past when cameras were not freely and easily accessible unlike in today’s world, people had other ways to capture the image of an object. One of those ways is painting, which was one of the main reasons that painters were highly revered in the past. Besides that, there was a lesser known technique, which is a traditional method called Gyotaku that was used in Japan. What is gyotaku? And how did it emerge?

    Fishermen’s Records

    Gyotaku is a traditional Japanese technique to print images of fish. It was said that the method was originally used by fishermen to record their trophy catches, but gyotaku has also been regarded as an art form. The word ‘gyotaku’ comes from the words ‘gyo’ (fish) and ‘taku’ (rubbing).

    In the olden days when the fishermen went out to the sea, they brought along rice paper, sumi-e ink, and brushes so the fishermen were able to record the sizes and species of their catches. To make the gyotaku imprint, the fish are painted with the sumi-e ink (which is non-toxic), and then the fish is imprinted on rice paper. As the Japanese revered certain types of fish, some of the fish that were caught were released after the gyotaku imprint of the fish was obtained.

    Gyotaku as an Artform

    In the early form of gyotaku, the fish would be imprinted onto the rice paper with no additional details. As gyotaku became more popular in the 1800s, details such as eyes and other intricate details of the fish were painted on afterward to create a more visually appealing effect. Gyotaku was made popular during the Edo period by Lord Sakai, who commissioned fishermen to print their catches.

    The popularity of gyotaku begins to dwindle after the Edo period. However, it has returned once more as a popular art form! Modern forms of gyotaku are more varied, with the addition of colors and different ways to imprint the fish, which are created by the artists through trial and error. This results in breathtaking pieces of artwork!

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