Behind the Story of Blood and Tears – Japanese Woodcuts (Ukiyoe)

Behind the Story of Blood and Tears – Japanese Woodcuts (Ukiyoe)

June 26, 2018 Behind the Story Blog Blood and Tears Humanities Japan 0

Most of us appreciate traditional Japanese woodcut paintings (ukiyoe) for their artistic and aesthetic beauty; however, very frequently they served more down-to-earth purposes such as advertising, celebrity worship (yes, fan magazines), social commentary and humor. 

Publishers and artists were subject to government censorship, so critical commentary could not be too specific in the details. One way to getting around the laws was to portray animals clothed and behaving like people. In the first print, we have a mouse commander waving his battle baton while mounted on a paper-mache dog, and leading his troops in a rout against some armor-clad and terrified looking cats. This picture depicts a popular children’s fairy tale, although it could easily be seen as a satirical portrayal of O-Bun’s dimwitted, freeloading samurai.

The next set of prints come from a series titled, 100 Roles of Baiko, which consists entirely of different characters played by the kabuki actor Baiko Onoe. (source: Waseda University Cultural Resource: Ukiyoe Database, view larger versions here: 梅幸百種之内)

These prints are from a series titled, Comical Views of Famous Places in Edo. (source:, view larger versions here: 江戸名所道化盡)


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