About Sake Drinking Animals

Animals depicted in ‘Ukiyo-e’ prints who enjoy drinking sake do so with a more human-like appearance than humans themselves, hitting bowls, dancing, and singing. In the late Edo period (late 19th century), many ukiyo-e prints that anthropomorphized animals were published, with Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) as the chief artist. This genre of art known as ‘giga’ is intended as a satire of human society, but we hope everyone can appreciate it nonetheless.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi loved cats. ‘The Six Immortal Cat Poets’, is a work that depicts the Rokkasen, six famous Japanese poets, as cats, complete with the feline habit of chasing after moving objects. It is fun, interesting, and elicits a laugh from viewers. Prints like these in the shape of uchiwa fans were made available every year. People would stick these prints onto a bamboo frame to keep the Edo summer heat at bay. ‘“Goldfish” A Drinking Party’ is another cute series, featuring tadpoles dancing beside goldfish playing instruments.

In addition to the ukiyo-e prints featuring animals, there are also works that depict zodiac beasts (“Comical Twelve Signs of the Zodiac” Oxen Sensitive to Spicy Food, “Comical Twelve Signs of the Zodiac” Rat, “Comical Twelve Signs of the Zodiac” Monkey). All were published as a 12-image series titled ‘douke’, or clowning around. There are two series with the same title, with the work with the vertical composition no. (“Comical Twelve Signs of the Zodiac” Oxen Sensitive to Spicy Food) belonging to a separate series.

Mayumi Sugawara (Professor of Literature, Osaka City University Graduate School)

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