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Cat fight!

You know Hokusai? Yeah, you know Hokusai – the Wave guy. About the time he drew that, in 1825, he did a series of illustrations for a picture book.

For reasons unknown, the book was never published. Which is good, because the original illos would have been destroyed in the engraving process. But it’s also bad, because they passed into private ownership never to be seen again.

Until now!

The British Museum bought all 103 of them in the Spring and put them on virtual display last month.

I really recommend having a browse. They’re fun and beautiful. More delicate than the swirly brush Japanese drawings I’m used to.

Toward the end of the Smithsonian article linked above, there is a handwringing about whether the BM should be in possession of them at all. Colonialism, don’t you know?

I may be reading too much into it, but I got the feeing the art historian quoted was shitting himself a little. To think, if countries can’t buy artworks outside their own local culture, the high falutin’ international art market will collapse.

Boo hoo.


Comment from Teej
Time: September 22, 2020, 9:19 pm

“…especially collections that were acquired through colonialism.”
The HORROR! Preserved by western civ instead of just burnt by the natives.

Comment from Pupster
Time: September 22, 2020, 10:33 pm

Very cool.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: September 22, 2020, 10:46 pm

The Brits had colonies in Japan? Who knew.

So did they give them cool names like Virginia or New Jersey or Massatwoshitts Bay Colony?

Comment from gebrauchshund
Time: September 23, 2020, 2:00 am

I’m just wondering how you got some Japanese dude who lived almost 200 years ago to draw a picture of the two cats you have now.

I’m thinkin’ it might be witchcraft.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: September 23, 2020, 4:12 am

Fascinating works! And who knew that in Japan even the cats have epicanthic folds?

When I looked up “epicanthus” and “epicanthic” to make sure I had the correct spelling, the OED mentioned that this feature is especially noted in Mongolians. Whimsically putting two ideas together, I did a search to see if there were any actual Mongolian cats and did they have eyelid folds?

Lo and Behold! There is indeed a wild Mongolian cat (without the folds, alas) and they are spectacular animals indeed. Please do yourselves a favor and go look at these terrific photographs of manul cats: http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2015/06/this-mongolian-cat-is-most-expressive.html

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: September 23, 2020, 4:22 am

I think my favorite of the 103 Hokusai illustrations is this one of “Zheng Zhilong threatening a sea monster with a gun”.

I’ve never seen a matchlock assault blunderbuss before.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: September 23, 2020, 7:42 am

Strangely enough, Uncle Al, (well, perhaps not given our tastes) just t’other night we were watching a documentary about cats and Pallas’s cat made an appearance, to much approval from the mustelid household, as you can imagine.

Fabulous pics on that link – I wonder if one would scratch the furniture?

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: September 23, 2020, 11:44 am

Self identifying with cat #3 in Uncle Al’s photo link.

Awesome, and kinda scary set of cats there eh?

We had a Bobcat walk up the side yard yesterday, middle of the day, casual stroll. I went out to see it, tall and thin, probably 30 pounds. Just looked at me and said in cat face “whattah you lookin at?” then went along to sniff the neighbor’s camper trailer. Beautiful eyes and white ear tips, but the tail was hardly a ‘bob’ tail.

Turns out, here’s why – though the one I saw didn’t have the curved tail like the one in the video in this link.


There’s a couple good videos that follow that one on YouTube, taken here in North Texas.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: September 23, 2020, 2:39 pm

@durnedyankee — Depending on time of day, I’m either #6 or #7. A long time ago, I had #11 for a cow-orker.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: September 23, 2020, 3:02 pm

Oh I’m definitely the last cat. I purrfected the “We are not amused” look when I had a teenaged son. I also had a look that could stop his breath. Rarely used, but highly effective.

Re: Hokusai. Does anyone know what kind of book the Hokusai illustrations were to be used for? I have not had the time to look at them.

Comment from BJM
Time: September 23, 2020, 5:04 pm

@Deborah – most likely this sort of book (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Me want! All the cat prints!

We lived in Japan in the 70’s for two years and managed to find four Hokusai that we could afford, including the wave, but my fav is “Storm Below Mt. Fuji” and five of modern ukiyo-e master Ito Shinsui’s “beauties” depicting the four seasons, a Kabuki actor as the lion which I can no longer find the provenance for so do not know by whom without translating the stamps, and fifteen Okamoto tree prints.

If you’re interested I’ll tell the story of the Spousal Unit meeting Shogo Oakamoto on the street in Tokyo one cold winter morning.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: September 23, 2020, 6:01 pm

A story! I stop for all storytellers.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: September 24, 2020, 12:13 am

I second the story!

And an Anime! With Youkai!

Comment from BJM
Time: September 25, 2020, 12:23 am

Otay…In the early 80’s the Spousal Unit was in Tokyo on bidness during winter and arrived at a morning meeting too early. He walked around a bit, but the shops were shuttered. So he sat on a bench, turned up his collar (he thought he was going door-to-door and didn’t wear his overcoat) and waited.

A door opened behind him and an older man in a winter Kimono came out to sweep the threshold and street in front of his shop. They exchanged bows and the Japanese man went about his sweeping and went back inside. Very soon a young Japanese man in a tweed blazer and Khakis came out and asked the SU in very good English if he were okay, was he lost? The SU explained and the younger man asked if he would like to come inside the shop where it was warm.

“Why not?” he thought, and followed the younger man inside. It was like stepping into the 5th century. As you may know, the Japanese have a passion for creating their living and working spaces from natural materials in traditional forms. They walked through a tiny garden into the shop itself where Okamoto-sama was waiting, now dressed in a Prince of Wales plaid suit and a black turtleneck (Japanese men love English tweeds and plaids). The younger man was his nephew and served as translator. Glancing around, the SU realized he was in a wood block print shop and the displayed work was very good. But firstly tea was to sipped and polite conversation had. Okamoto-sama remarked that the SU’s surname translated to Fujiyama and he had just finished a series of Fuji prints, would the SU like to see them? The SU asked if he could return after his meeting. Okamoto-sama was pleased to enlighten a Ganjin and the SU stayed all afternoon, enjoying a bowl of ramen at the local shop with both young and elder Okamotos. That led to a wander down an alleyway to craft shops of all types. Japanese buildings have what appears to be modern facades on the street, but the heart of a city block is a village that outsiders do not realize exists…but I digress.

Back at Okamoto-sama’s shop the SU asked if Okamoto-sama would allow him to buy a piece. Okamoto-sama poured tea and asked the SU to describe where he lived. He then went to a case and chose two, both twisted bare branches of ancient oak trees in tones of black and gray on a white ground. Our house sat among old oak trees and every winter the art on the walls continued outside the windows.

The SU was in Tokyo every few months for the next three years and always blocked out a day to visit Okamoto-sama. Some of our most treasured pieces of Japanese art and crafts were acquired through their friendship. By the mid-90’s our focus shifted to Europe but the nephew kept in touch via email. A few years before he died Okamoto-sama was declared a national treasure, the highest honor an artist or craftsman can achieve.

Comment from paracelsus
Time: October 3, 2020, 12:50 pm

“But it’s also bad, because they passed into private ownership never to be seen again.”
Sorry! You are making an unfounded assumption.
There are some of us (Caucasian Westerners yet) who place their ukiyo-e on-line for the edification of the great unwashed and the delectation of those who are able to appreciate the art.

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