The (F)Art of War: Bawdy Japanese Art Scroll Depicts Wrenching Changes in 19th Century Japan

he gassen 5

When you think of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese art, you might think of a sumi‑e ink paint­ing that evokes a copse of bam­boo with a few mas­ter­ful lines. A haiku that cap­tures the fragili­ty of beau­ty in the length of a tweet. A gar­den that some­how con­veys the tran­scen­dence of all things by ele­gant­ly fram­ing the wind in the trees.


While the He-Gassen scroll from rough­ly the 1840s has lit­tle of the Zen-like restraint of the above exam­ples, it def­i­nite­ly shows the wind in the trees. He-Gassen (屁合戦) lit­er­al­ly trans­lates into “fart bat­tle” and it shows var­i­ous men and women with their rears in the air, break­ing hur­ri­cane-strength wind — blasts so pow­er­ful that they can launch cats into the air, blow through walls, knock over build­ings and gen­er­al­ly send vic­tims reel­ing. The scroll is eas­i­ly one of the most remark­able, and hilar­i­ous, pieces of art I’ve seen in a long while.


The whole thing might look like an extend­ed sketch from Ter­reace and Phillip, those gassy Cana­di­an TV stars from South Park, but some argue that He-Gassen might have a polit­i­cal dimen­sion. Dur­ing the Edo peri­od (1603–1867), flat­u­lence was used as a way to mock west­ern­ers. Japan was closed off from the out­side world and they were feel­ing more and more pres­sure from the West until final­ly Amer­i­can gun boats led by Com­modore Matthew Per­ry forced the coun­try open in 1853. What bet­ter way to thwart these West­ern inter­lop­ers than with a cav­al­cade of indus­tri­al strength gas?


You can see a few choice pic­tures above, or head over to the Wase­da Uni­ver­si­ty dig­i­tal archive and see the whole thing. 38 images in total.

via i09

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hand-Col­ored Pho­tographs of 19th Cen­tu­ry Japan

Hōshi: A Short Film on the 1300-Year-Old Hotel Run by the Same Fam­i­ly for 46 Gen­er­a­tions

The Art of Col­lo­type: See a Near Extinct Print­ing Tech­nique, as Lov­ing­ly Prac­ticed by a Japan­ese Mas­ter Crafts­man

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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