The Sea Monk (Umi Bozu) is a sea monster with a smooth round head, like the shaven head of a Buddhist monk. This woodblock print illustrates the story of the sailor Kawanaya Tokuzo, who decides to go to sea on the last day of the year, which other sailors consider unlucky. A violent storm breaks out, and the Umi Bozu appears. In a ghastly voice the apparition demands, “Name the most horrible thing you know!” Tokuzo yells back, “My profession is the most horrible thing I know!” The monster is apparently satisfied with this answer and disappears along with the storm.
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) did woodcuts for popular consumption. They were like 19th C Japanese monster action comix. There’s a nice selection of his pictures here.
He was a contemporary of Hokusai, the Great Wave guy and they both belonged to a school of painting called Ukiyo-e. The word ukiyo means “floating world” and describes the lifestyle rather than the subject matter.
Edo (now Tokyo) saw a boom in the 17th C and suddenly merchants who had been at the bottom of the heap could afford to go to the theater and hang out with the professional ladies. And go watch the fat guys rassle in their underpants. And buy art for the walls. This stuff caters to that taste.
If you go to the Wikipedia article (previous link), look at the pictures in the sidebar (you’ll surely recognize some of them), take a name to ukiyo-e org, you can spend happy hours paddling around the art.
I think Kuniyoshi is my favorite, though. Lots of soldiers and monsters and ghosts.
February 21, 2017 — 8:35 pm