Bodhidharma, a woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1887. Bodhidharma was a semi-legendary– or at least subsequently surrounded by myth)– Indian Buddhist monk credited with bringing Ch’an Buddhism (later, in Japan, Zen) to China, with beginning the tradition of fighting Shaolin monks (so indirectly we can thank him for Hong Kong kung fu films), with contemplating a blank wall in silence for nine years, and for being a bit of an old bastard by the sound of it. (Very comprehensive Wikipedia page.) Also a Bear icon avant la lettre, and if you don’t know what a Bear is already then you’re probably über-straight and you also probably won’t want to Google it if you’re at work or your wife is in the room. Anyway, I swear that’s not why this picture was hanging around on my hard drive.
He’s omnipresent in Japanese life and iconography in the form of daruma, the rotund, goggle-eyed papier mache dolls intended to motivate or attract success: you draw one eye on at the beginning of your venture, then draw the other eye on when you succeed. One bit of folklore suggests that daruma have no arms and legs because Bodhidharma’s own limbs atrophied and disappeared during his years of wall-staring. This is equal parts adorable and disturbing. You know, Japanese.
Daruma dolls. Photo by Alistair Gentry.
Or: What the captions say on Hokusai’s ‘Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’
Warning: sexiness. Well, in my view totally hilarious rather than sexy. The two things can of course coexist, but in this case I’m declaring my personal preference for the hilarious interpretation. I think James Joyce’s letters to his Mrs are also lurking somewhere in that particular no (wo)man’s land. My article regarding old Jim’s fat mickey and what he’d like to do with it is still one of the most popular posts I’ve ever done here, along with the one about Japanese manga onomatopoeia, so when I was inspired to research the book that this famous print comes from it immediately became clear that I should share my findings with the perverts who visit this site. Edo sex onomatopeia! Bizarre erotic material! Japanese stuff! It hits all the blogging G spots.
The print generally known in English as The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife is in Japanese simply 蛸と海女, Tako no ama (Octopus and Shell Diver). I’m a long way from being Mr Politically Correct, but right there we’ve got what seems to be a glaring piece of casual Western imperialist sexism, since she might well be somebody’s wife but the most salient fact is that she’s actually a fisherwoman in her own right. It’s not even an accurate description because the fisherman isn’t part of this scenario. Presumably his presence would impede this young lady’s hook ups with such fine specimens of cephalopod manhood as are shown here. It’s the kind of a work-related fling that happens when your colleagues are mainly molluscs.
Katsushika Hokusai, he of the iconic The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, also worked openly and to equal acclaim, popularity and prestige on erotic prints (春画 shunga) like the one under discussion here. This particular print is from the novel Kinoe no Komatsu (Young Pines, 1814), a title which is probably as euphemistic as calling the whole thing a novel; I should imagine if it has any novelistic qualities at all it would still be the kind of novel you’d read with one hand. For those who don’t know already, the print depicts a naked woman in a consensual sexual encounter with sea creatures. If you’re on the front page, clicking READ MORE (or whatever it says above the break) will show it to you. Don’t click the link if you or your employer are not inclined towards enjoying things like that. It’s visible on the wall in the background of my current profile picture on my own website, among other places, to the outrage and disgust of absolutely nobody. You’ll probably see worse by accident when you Google something you’d previously thought was innocent (I know I have)… but whatever, those who need warning should consider yourselves warned.