Ukiyo-e Prints


Port Townsend, Washington







Subject: Tanuki variations


 Size: 14 5/8" x 9 3/4"

Date: 1859, 11th Month

Ansei 6


Publisher: Kobayashi-ya Taijirō



Signed: Yoshiiku ga









When I purchased this print it was represented as being by an 'anonymous artist', but eventually I  recognized that it is by Yoshiiku. Most prints created in the century before Yoshiiku had been signed in a totally different way, i.e., generally within the body of the print and in one or two vertical columns and often accompanied by the artist's seal. Compare the signatures below. The one on the left is from a similarly fantastic set of images, but from a totally different print. Then compare it to the signature which I have isolated from this sheet. The comparison should be obvious.








Because there is so much to say about the variety of tanuki images in this print we have decided to create a second page linked to this one.

We have done this so that each page will load more quickly for the newest visitors.

Also, we will be adding new material from time to time and may have to create a third or even a fourth page eventually.

CLICK on the print featured on this page and shown above to go to the second page.




Tanuki may be fun loving, irreverent little creatures, but do they really deserve an end like this. Actually I don't have the slightest what is going on in this image --- I don't even remember who did it --- but it sure looks like a monster is about to have a tanuki for lunch. Maybe the tanuki went just a bit to far with his one of his pranks and forgot who he was messing with. Really...I haven't got a clue. Your guess is as good as mine.


I want to thank my friend M. for sending this to me. He knew I would want to use it somehow and he was right. Thanks M!









Does it bother you as much as it does me that so many questions go unanswered or answered inadequately? The subject of neck wrestling is a case in point. While images of this sport/exercise/entertainment are not common neither are they completely unknown. But what does seem to be rare is the amount of information we have about this activity. I have a decent library filled with loads of material which is hard to find elsewhere be it in books or on the Internet. However, the dearth of reliable sources is just short of shameful. My efforts to research kubipiki or neck wrestling is only one example among thousands where there is next to nothing to be found. And where there is a  source that does say something about it it often contradicts every other source. Several books/sites state that it has its origins in China. Well, duh! A lot of Japanese customs can be traced back to the Middle Kingdom. But while they say where it came from they never seem to cite sources so how are we to know? No bibliography, no footnotes, nothing.

I own what would appear to be a rather comprehensive guide to sumo wrestling, but it doesn't even mention kubipiki. Lawrence Bickford in his Sumo and the Woodblock Print Masters published by Kodansha in 1994 shows three illustrations, but only lists two in the index/glossary section and doesn't ever discuss the subject as best I can tell. Bickford's defenders  might  say "Well, that isn't the point of this book" to which I would respond "Well, it would help if you knew what you were looking at." Why should this be so difficult? Someone out there must know something, but they sure aren't getting it out there sharing their knowledge with the rest of us. If you know otherwise then please enlighten me.


Now I haven't forgotten about the two tanuki engaged in a tug of war seen in the image immediately above this section. Apparently they have replaced the thick rope used in neck wrestling with the scrotum of one of the two contenders. Then why isn't it wrapped around the necks of both of them? My contention: The artist had to take some license with this portrayal knowing that it would not only be irrational for it to loop around their heads, but then it would be difficult to determine the locus of origination, i.e., the groin of the one with his back to us.





About five or six years ago my best friend Chris --- that's him on the water --- decided to build a row boat from scratch in his basement in Kansas City. He was careful, methodical and slower than.... As he was working on it I just happened to ask (more than once) "How're you gonna get it out of here, i.e., the basement?" With his usual aplomb he would respond without ever looking up "Piece-a-cake!" Eventually it was finished, but by then I had moved to Port Townsend and had to miss all of the fun.


Ever wonder how they got those intricate ship models in the narrow necked bottles? Well, the day to take the newly finished row boat outside was one Chris and his family will long remember. In fact, every time they look at the long, long, long vertical crack in the wall of their living room they can't help but shake their heads. But they did get it out  as you can see from its inaugural launching above --- and the house is still standing.* A crowd of friends, family, paparazzi and probably some curiosity seekers were there for the grand event: A champagne launching**, speeches, applause, etc. It was quite a proud day for one and all --- especially Chris!


So, why am I telling you all of this? Because if only Chris had been a tanuki it would have been so much simpler and far less expensive. All he would have had to do was transform his scrotum into a boat and then he could pick up a little extra cash just ferrying people around. But alas my friend had to do it the hard way. He is not as strategically endowed. But Chris says "I see the difference between me and the tanuki is that [they] see no need for subtlety; whereas, I prefer to display my[self]... metaphorically." Really, he said this. I can prove it.

Above is a detail from a Hokusai book illustration

showing the traditional, non-tanuki way of transporting people and goods.




Above is a detail from a print by Kuniyoshi the teacher of Yoshiiku.


*In the picture of Chris rowing his new boat on Brush Creek you can see his son Scott walking along the bank. For purposes of clarity that is a can of Sprite he is carrying. In five more years it is likely to be a can of Red Bull knowing how kids are today. Two years after that it will be a beer. Of course, none of this has anything to do with tanukis, but I felt it was something that just had to be said. They grow up so fast.

**Actually it was Cold Duck and not champagne, but champagne sounded better. Also, note that Chris is flying the Jolly Roger.









I am just speculating here, but I think the tanuki seen immediately above this section is using his scrotum as a lid for a barrel. That raises a couple of pressing questions. First, isn't that impractical? Wouldn't the tanuki have to stay with the barrel the whole time? And second, isn't there a possible hygiene problem here?


Of course, you might look at the image and read it differently. Perhaps he is putting something in the barrel, but I don't think so.


We are spoiled today. Or, at least those of us who live in the more affluent nations. There aren't many people still alive who remember how barrels were used for storage prior to modern refrigeration. However, barrels have a long history of such usage.  In ancient Rome a major staple of their diet was a fermented fish product called garum. Whole fish were aged (up to three months) and stored in barrels eventually to be used as a kind of salad dressing or in cooking other dishes. Hence, the need for a good barrel and a good barrel maker. A good, relatively air tight lid might come in handy too. The Japanese have their own fermented 'fish sauce' called uoshōyu (魚醤油 or うおしよゆ).


The detail from a print by Hokusai shown in this section is of a barrel maker  kneeling on the inside of his creation. This is one of my favorite Japanese print images. The need for such craftsmen was cross cultural and essential. The only drawback for the tanuki would have been for him to use his own private parts as a lid on a barrel of this size. But  those resourceful tanuki... I am sure they would have been up to the job.









This is not a major point, but I have learned a lot of technical things since I first started this web site. As a result I am in the process of replacing smaller, fuzzier images with larger, clearer, cleaner ones which go a long way toward giving you a much better sense of this print.














Above is a detail from a print by Utamaro. It shows a man shaving Fukurokuju from a ladder because his forehead is  unusually high.



Timothy Clark who collaborated with Shūgō Asano in their wonderful two volume catalogue The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro noted that an alternate name for Fukurokuju is Gehō (外法). See catalogue entry #421 in the text volume p. 239. For anyone interested in Japanese traditional, late 18th to early 19th century culture and not just Utamaro or woodblock prints I would urge them to take a look at these books.




I am a lover of the Internet, but I am also a lover of books, real books. Doing research is probably one of my very favorite things to do along with exercise, eating and goofing off. However, it is research and the Internet that I want to address here. In the passage above I mentioned that Fukurokuju is also known as Gehō. If it weren't for the fact that Timothy Clark notes that one of Utamaro's prints refers to Gehō and explains why then I am not sure I would have ever known that that is an alternative name for this god. I searched my library and found nothing. Maybe there is something there, but it is certainly well hidden. I attempted several searches on Google and other search engines and came up with nothing. I tried it in kanji and kana and almost everything in between with the same result. Perhaps I was too impatient and only looked at the first 273 entries before I gave up while it may actually have appeared at the 274th. I'll never know unless one of you out there reading this and sets me straight.


MY POINT: No matter how impressed all of us are with the overwhelming mass of information to be found on the Internet sometimes, no often, there is absolutely nothing. Or, if there is a reference it is so spare or inaccurate as to be almost worthless. We need more and deserve more...both you and I. Gehō should not be just a name on this page. Please let me hear from you if you can help me add meat to these bones. It will be truly appreciated.


Above is a detail from a print by Kuniyoshi showing Fukurokuju helping Daikoku and Hotei (?) across a body of water. For more information and images of two of the Seven Propitious Gods, Ebisu and Daikoku, click on the yellow heart.


Above is a detail from a print by Dürer.


Anyone who has spent much time visiting this site knows that I often go far afield in my analogies. However, there is a method to my madness. That is why I decided to include an image of St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child across a river by Albrecht Dürer. Not that I am implying any one to one connection between the Kuniyoshi image and that by Dürer, but the similarities are most striking. The underlying religious elements are surely coincidences. Japanese prints are rife with images of one figure being carried like this by another so there is no reason for Kuniyoshi to have looked elsewhere for inspiration.







I have been thinking about this for a long time. Obviously from the nature of the images on this sheet this print was meant to amuse. But in what way? There seemed to be two possibilities: One way would be to cut out the images and paste them to harder paper stock and use them like a karuta (かるた) a word of Portuguese origin meaning cards and hence a card game; The other way would be to use this print as a sugoroku (双六 or すごろく) or game played using dice and with movable pieces like in Monopoly.


I wrote to an expert on Japanese prints and asked him what he thought. After some research he decided that this was probably used for sugoroku although, like me, he too was was puzzled by the fact that it didn't follow the general pattern of a spiraling path to a goal at the end. He referenced a site with numerous examples, one or more of which had a similar appearance to this Yoshiiku print. So, until we know otherwise I will opt for the second choice: Sugoroku. As to the meaning of this particular game sheet I am stumped.


The expert and I had both searched English language publications and had not come up with anything conclusive. Maybe now someone will be spurred to publish something in hard copy for all of us to use.






We sold another tanuki print. The one shown above is by Yoshitoshi.  Click on the image above to go to that page.








but there is much more to this web site than just this print!

That is why I would like you to click on the head of the camel

shown below and that will take you to our home page

 and from there you can explore so much more.


Please make the camel happy!


But before you do that make sure you have fun with these pages.










This is a larger, clearer, cleaner image than the fuzzier, smaller one which we had posted originally. This should give you a better sense of the print.







If you're a tanuki there's no problem. Just improvise.

Work together and the catch will be large.


Yoshiiku was taught by Kuniyoshi and he learned his lessons well. Below are two different examples by his master illustrating the resourcefulness of tanuki fishermen. Notice that in the bottom picture the tanuki have tied their scrotums together. I suppose it is easier that way. Cooperation at its best....and most intimate.












Publisher's seal:

Kobayashi-ya Tajiro

View of backside of print above.

Date Seal:

1859, 11th Month


Direct purchase may be made through check or money order

or by payment through PayPal.








Click on the image above to go to the second tanuki page!