Cat Scribblings

There was an exhibition of ukiyo-e and maneki neko from the Edo period in the Museum of Kyoto. I took some time out last week to see it, and as an avid cat lover I was not disappointed.

The exhibition was a large one, on two floors there were different themes displayed mostly as woodblock prints of cats and women, ghostly cats, 19th century cat manga, anthropomorphised cat images, little paper cat dolls that could be dressed in little paper kimono and many, many more…

What I found most interesting were some prints by Kuniyoshi Utagawa, a very famous ukiyo-e artist of the Edo period. This one for example: It consists of cats playing with catfish (called namatsu in Japanese) and thus forming the hiragana for namatsu. While the hiragana na and ma are easy to read, I cannot make out the tsu at all. To me, this looks more like gawa, the kanji for river. I wonder what’s the idea behind this.

Cats forming "namatsu"Anyway, at the end of the exhibition, there was the obligatory museum shop. I’m not usually buying more than a few postcards, but this time, I have to admit, I got myself quite a number of cat paraphernalia…

2 thoughts on “Cat Scribblings”

  1. Again, sooooo jealous!!! 😉

    My theory: The tsu originated from the kanji for river 川 and in Japanese (cursive) calligraphy it might still resemble it… or at least did back then?

    btw. I think it’s “なまず” not “なまづ” [both are spelled with -zu in transcription] nowadays.

    1. Sounds like a good theory to me! I showed the image to my Japanese teacher and he was stunned, had no idea. He said he would go and show it to other people and see what they think. There is a similar image out there with “tako” (octopus) and the ko almost looks like a hiragana A or O. My teacher said that the hiragana for ko developed from the kanji for “furu” (old), and that it was written like that in the Edo period still.

      And I thought that the hiragana have been unchanged for centuries…

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