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Here, let me waste your afternoon for you


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.


Comment from Bruce in Oregon
Time: February 22, 2017, 12:16 am

Many moons ago, I was privileged to view a ukiyo-e print exhibit at the local museum. They had prints re-inked from original wood blocks for sale, I picked up Hokusai’s “Caulking the tub at Fujigahara”. Those guys were great!

Comment from Surly Ermine
Time: February 22, 2017, 12:53 am

Boy, you sure are artsy-fartsy lately. And making your own paint? Ain’t that what Photoshop’s fer?

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: February 22, 2017, 4:13 am

A decade ago it fell to me to dispose of a relative’s worldly possessions after he drank himself to death. There wasn’t much. He was wildly creative and talented, an accomplished liar and desperate alcoholic, and the consummate drop-out. One of the things he’d dropped out of was art school.

At the end of my day, I was faced with a large locked portfolio. I’d hope to find a key but didn’t, so I was forced to break the locks. Inside were a dozen or so paintings in the ukiyo-e style and signed by my relative. They were extreme close up views of body “parts” that were so exquisitely painted and pornographic I had to drop them and walk away. These were not “bedroom scenes.” These were like 17th century Japanese Larry Flynt and probably worth a fortune.

The paintings had been stored for at least 40 years, and were almost black with mold. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but I put them back in the portfolio, wrapped it up in a lawn-size black garbage bag and buried it in the bottom of the dumpster.

I put my clothes in the washer, and took a long hot shower until I was nearly blistered. Then I drank a lot of alcohol myself and prayed I hadn’t inhaled one of those deadly molds.

Comment from BJM
Time: February 22, 2017, 8:24 am

We have a small collection having lived in Japan years ago. Chikanobu’s elegant women portrayed in seasonally themed kimono, an assortment of Hokusai, and a Nishiki-e (brocade print) pillow book, the registration is remarkable.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 22, 2017, 2:41 pm

What a story, Deborah!

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: February 22, 2017, 3:47 pm

“Name the most horrible thing you know!”
Tokuzo yells back, “My profession is the most horrible thing I know!”

From this story we can deduce –

Umi Bozu didn’t catch Tokuzo fishing after Hillary Clinton became Democratic candidate for President in 2016.
being a fisherman really IS more horrible than Hillary being President.

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