The Life of Cats in Historic Japanese Woodblock Prints

They were brought to Japan on ships during the mid-sixth century to protect sacred Buddhist scriptures during transport, but quickly became a central element of Japanese life, appearing in art and folklore throughout the ages. Cats populate the ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the Edo Period (1615-1867). Japan Society Gallery will be presenting a selection of these historic prints, which include the longest-lasting image of a cat in Japanese literature and more. “Much that is fundamental to the Japanese character can be gleaned from these historic popular prints that feature cats in everyday life and lore,” notes Miwako Tezuka, director of the gallery. Half of the works will be on view through April 26, while the rest will be exhibited from April 29 to June 7. Bewhiskered kabuki actors, exotic predators, anthropomorphized felines, and other cats await you in our preview of Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1857. Color woodblock print; 22 ½ x 16 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1857. Color woodblock print; 22 ½ x 16 inches. Courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation.