Bebe Taian: More Cats.

June 6, 2011

More Cats.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Okay, after this, I promise I'm done talking about cats for a little while!

Yep, more talk about cats. This time, cats in ukiyo-e! I knew there HAD to be some. As long as there are piles of comfy things, there have been cats. As long as there have been expensive hand-woven silk cords, there have been cats. Usually in abundance. The nicer something is, and the less you want it to get ruined, the more cats there will likely be. Maybe it's their way of reminding us that 'stuff' isn't important?

So I went digging.

Lots of cats in ukiyo-e.  Enough for there to be postcard sets issued (check Amazon)! >D It's great. I'm extremely pleased to find a page dedicated to compiling images of this subject. Go there. Spend hours looking at photos. Know that no matter how safe you try to keep your things, there will always be a cat there to safeguard you from becoming too connected to material objects. It is said that cats rejected Buddha and his teachings, but the way they act sometimes, I wonder if that's really true? They've done an *excellent* job of keeping me from having nice things for long...

Utagawa Kunisada
I'll warn ahead of time that this isn't going to be an educational post. Today is about appreciating art, as it is. <3

The pattern on the woman's kimono to the left is flax flowers, I think. I have a Taisho-era one very similar to it, along with a red juban for underneath. Seeing portraits like this make me want to reenact the scene somehow, and take "real life" photos. It's an awesome ambition... although I had originally intended to list that kimono for sale, maybe now I'll hang on to it. I can always see about a museum maybe hosting the private collection for awhile...

It seems that ukiyo-e of many smaller figures composing larger figures or images was very popular for a time. You can see in in ukiyo-e of yokai, where many men will compose a portrait of a larger men, and such themes as this. This time, it's cats forming the characters for "catfish". Kuniyoshi seemed particularly fond of cats, although they appear in so, so many different artists' works...

Utagawa Kuniyoshi
And, of course, what kind of post would this be without at LEAST depicting the reality of owning both kimono AND raising cats? The love, the admiration, the destruction, the heartbreak... Severus, my dear smart-aleck cat, destroyed a Japanese post-war jewellery box which was a family heirloom... Seraph, who shredded a Taisho-era juban I'd been airing out (she decided it made an excellent ladder to the top of the closet, naturally!)... Bebe, my very own bunnycat, who thought that a silk summer outfit was a GREAT place to stretch her claws, gave me hours of patching to do before I could even THINK about wearing that kimono again... as a juban... Oh, my collection has paid dearly over the years. I can only imagine the anger and frustration that women in Japan must have felt as their ridiculously expensive, hand-woven kimono were torn apart by their beloved felines. And yet, how often we pick up and play with our cuddly companions despite this.

Toyohara Kunichika


  1. One of my favorite cat woodblocks is this one:

    Seriously, I have NO CLUE what's going on in it- it looks like a giant cat youkai in a kimono is contemplating an equally giant octopus or something. It's just so wonderfully random...

  2. "I'm glad my husband brought it home... now, how the heck do I cook this thing?"


    No, seriously, I have no idea what's going on there either- but how funny!