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Ted-Ed: Gyotaku 3:37min

This is an animation about the art of Gyotaku that was invented by Japanese fisherman as a way to record the size of the fish they caught.  Over time, the prints became more detailed and Gyotaku developed into an art form.

Section I
How big was that fish you caught? This big? This big? This big?
Without photographic evidence, there is nothing that proves you caught a whopper, and that’s been true since the dawn of fishing
In fact, hundreds of years ago, long before photography could capture the moment, Japanese fishermen invented their own way to record trophy catches
They called it Gyotaku

[ :37] Section II
Gyotaku is the ancient art of printing fish that originated in Japan, as a way to record trophy catches prior to the modern day camera
Gyo means fish and taku means impression
There are several different stories about how gyotaku came about but it basically started with fishermen needing a way to record the species and size of the fish they caught over 100 years ago
Fishermen took paper, ink and brushes out to sea with them
They told stories of great adventures at sea
Since the Japanese revered certain fish, the fishermen would take a rubbing from these fish and release them
To make the rubbing they would paint the fish with non-toxic sumi-e ink and print them on rice paper
This way they could be released or cleaned and sold at market
The first prints like this were for records only with no extra details
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s (mid-eighteen hundreds) that they began painting eye details and other embellishment on to the prints

[1:38min] Section III
One famous nobleman, Lord Sakai, was an avid fisherman and when he made a large catch he wanted to preserve the memory of the large, red sea bream
To do so, he commissioned a fisherman to print his catch
After this, many fisherman would bring their Gyotaku prints to Lord Sakai and if he liked their work would hire them to print for him
Many prints hung in the palace during the Edo period
After this period, Gyotaku was not as popular and began to fade away

[2:06] Section IV
Today, Gyotaku has become a popular art form, enjoyed by many and the prints are said to bring good luck to the fisherman
But the art form is quite different than it used to be
Most artists today learn on their own by trial and error
Before the artist begins to print, the fish needs to be prepared for printing
First, the artist places the fish on a hollowed out surface
Then the artist spreads the fins out and pins them down on the board to dry
They then clean the fish with water
When it comes time to print, there are two different methods
The indirect method begins with pasting moist fabric or paper onto to the fish using rice paste
Then, the artist uses a tompo or a cotton ball covered in silk, to put on the fabric or paper to produce the print
This method requires more skill and great care needs to be taken when pulling the paper off the fish so the paper doesn’t tear
In the direct method the artist paints directly on the fish and then gently presses the moist fabric or paper into the fish
With both of these methods no two prints are exactly alike but both reveal dramatic images of the fish
For the final touch, the artist uses a chop, or a stamp, and signs their work and can hold it up to say “The fish was exactly this big!”

PDF TRANSCRIPT Gyotaku

GLOSSARY Gyotaku

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