The Life of Cats in Historic Japanese Woodblock Prints

By
Share:

They were brought to Japan on ships during the mid-sixth century to protect sacred Buddhist scriptures during transport, but quickly became a central element of Japanese life, appearing in art and folklore throughout the ages. Cats populate the ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the Edo Period (1615-1867). Japan Society Gallery will be presenting a selection of these historic prints, which include the longest-lasting image of a cat in Japanese literature and more. “Much that is fundamental to the Japanese character can be gleaned from these historic popular prints that feature cats in everyday life and lore,” notes Miwako Tezuka, director of the gallery. Half of the works will be on view through April 26, while the rest will be exhibited from April 29 to June 7. Bewhiskered kabuki actors, exotic predators, anthropomorphized felines, and other cats await you in our preview of Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1857. Color woodblock print; 22 ½ x 16 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Utagawa Kunisada II (1823–1880), No. 36, Kashiwagi from the series Lady Murasaki’s Genji Cards, 1857. Color woodblock print; 22 ½ x 16 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), Oshun Denbei mi no kusasa sakari no irodoki, from the series Fashionable Cat Frolics, 1847. Color woodblock print; 14 ½ x 9 ¾ inches. Courtesy Private Collection, New York.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), Cats Suggested by the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, 1847. Color woodblock print; each sheet 14 5/8 x 10 inches. Courtesy Private Collection, New York.

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III; 1786–1865), Beloved Concubine Kochō, Her Maid Okoma, and Narushima Tairyō, 1853. Color woodblock print; 22 3/8 x 36 7/8 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), From the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō Road: Scene at Okazaki: Onoe Kikugorō III as the Neko-ishi no Kai, the Spirit of the Cat Stone, Mimasu Gennosuke I as Shirasuga Jūemon, and Ichimura Uzaemon XII as Inabanosuke, 1835. Color woodblock print; 22 3/8 x 36 7/8 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Utagawa Yoshiiku (1833–1904), The Story of Otomi and Yosaburō, 1860. Color woodblock print; 22 ½ x 16 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), Parody of Umegae Striking the Bell of Limitless [Hell] from the series Fashionable Cat Games, 1848–54. Color woodblock print; 22 ½ x 16 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Utagawa Kunimaro (active ca. 1850-75), A Brief History of the Buddha Dainichi Disguised as Otake, 1849. Color woodblock print; 22 ½ x 16 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), Chrysanthemums from the series Eight Selected Flowers from the Garden, 1844–48. Color woodblock print, 16 x 22 ½ inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1864), Cat and Beauty from the series Beauties in New Styles Dyed to Order, 1818–30. Color woodblock print; 36 7/8 x 22 3/8 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892), Looking Tiresome: The Appearance of a Virgin of the Kansei Era from the series Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners, 1888. Color woodblock print; 22 ½ x 16 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.