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Scene from Choju Giga

Because collectors of my work are spread all over the world, I have to try and select images that are of interest to both people 'out there' and to those here in Japan. And when writing these little notes to accompany the prints, I have to consider how much to explain, and this time I have a conundrum - many overseas people will not know what this image is, but everybody in Japan will find it very familiar.

The 'Choju Jinbutsu Giga' ('Caricatures of Animals as People') is one of Japan's most famous cultural relics. It is a collection of e-maki mono (illustrated scrolls) dating from the 12th century. Over the years the scroll has been the subject of considerable academic debate: there are those who consider it to be the earliest forerunner of manga (cartooning), while others dispute this sort of claim, as the scrolls were not something that the general public had access to until modern times, so their influence was perhaps limited.

But no matter how true those theories are, there is no disputing that the scroll is a lot of fun. The chief designer (just who this was is also a matter of some dispute) was clearly a person with wonderful skill with his brush, and most of the animals live and move across the length of the long scroll in a very vivid manner.

I have selected one small scene for my reproduction; the well-known 'sumo' scene. (But please remember that this scroll was created long before the sport of sumo because organized in any way, so this should be interpreted as a real 'fight' rather than a 'bout' I think!)

I had fun carving and printing this one, as the techniques are of course very different from the usual ukiyo-e style of work. I hope you enjoy it ...


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