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June 15, 2015


The page you are linking to has a title on the top expressing amazement that Hokusai was 88 and could produce artwork like that. So no explanation of iconography

The full work has writing on the left side

and the furthest left is the name Hokusai took when he was 75 and it reads Gakyo Rojin Manji or "crazy about art old man Manji" and before that, it says 'previously [zen] Hokusai Iitsu inspected [aratame]' which is I think a joke, because woodblocks had to be inspected by the Edo City Magistrate before they could be published. It is in the style of a new year's print for the year of the rat in the chinese zodiac, but according to this page

it is listed as a brush painting manual, which may account for its clean lines and simple style.

Year of the Rat! Now I understand why the rats have such cute faces, instead of being a picture of "vermin getting into the nice food".

"Things I Have Learned: when you go to the "hot food pay by the pound" steam trays, even at the *good* supermarket, don't get the Asian-style Fish with Ginger and Scallions -- at least not if it's mid-afternoon, long after the lunch rush."

A long time ago, we'd game in the college union. On Sundays, we'd get there at 11 AM. The beef and broccoli in the Chinese mini-buffet steam table was a rich dark brown and bright green.

By 3 PM, it was grey and olive drab.

Yikes - food-borne illnesses are no fun. Discussion of religious symbolism is appropriate, since one tends to spend a lot of time worshipping porcelain gods after eating bad fish :)

The cultural and religious symbolism in European art during the Middle Ages and after always interests me. Sometimes they laid it on with such a trowel that you need a checklist and interpreter - and that's even when there was no censorship-driven need to be obscurely allegorical.

Hope you feel better soon!

A knowledgeable friend elseweb believes this is a traditional (if uncommon) theme; here is another version, attr. Nagasawa Rosetsu -- also Edo period.

She says:

I have a book on Animal Motifs in Asian Art- there's a few paragraphs on the rat- in Japanese tradition 'getting rich means to invite the rat, since this creature will remain only where there is plenty of food'. One particular rat, a *white* rat, like the ones in this painting, is the fuku nezumi 'lucky white rat' one of the attributes of the godling Daikoku, the god of wealth. He is particularly invoked by merchants.

The book doesn't mention salmon in particular, but does say that a piece of dried fish accompanies a gift to convey several meanings- an admonition to the prosperous to be humble, to remind them their ancestors were fishermen, and to express the hope the gift will be graciously received. The fish also means 'congratulation'.

I guess, then, that the painting was intended as a gift, to be given to a prosperous merchant.

I've heard that bird-and-flower paintings were almost all created as gifts, with the choice of bird, flower, and associated poem conveying a specific good wish, and it looks to me that this is the same sort of thing.

The book doesn't mention salmon in particular, but does say that a piece of dried fish accompanies a gift to convey several meanings

I think your friend might be talking about noshi, which is a strip of dried abalone that traditionally goes around a present.


I don't think that the category extends to all dried fish, though the whole genre of surimono were filled with who could make the most erudite and obscure allusion.

Of course, abalone is one of those foods that has a really long history in Japanese culture,


Your friend is right about the possible meaning of rat, the rat is the first animal on the Chinese zodiac, having got there through quick thinking (a lot of different versions of the story)


here are a few links for you


Though I'm not sure if showing you a bunch of rats is the best thing when you are overcoming nausea...

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