Lovers of art, history and animals are celebrating the release of an exclusive set of ukiyoe woodblock prints from 1857 that are now free to download and share online.
The series of 26 animals was created by acclaimed artist Utagawa Yoshitora, an accomplished pupil of legendary ukiyoe creator Utagawa Kuniyoshi, who was widely known for his renderings of cats and mythical beasts. The influence of the great master is clearly evident in these images, which include traditional portrayals of magical animals alongside lions, sheep, wolves and even cats and dogs.
▼ Common animals like horses, sheep and deer appear especially beautiful with elegant poses and attention to detail.
▼ That’s a Japanese Weasel in case you were’t sure!
▼ Clockwise, from top left: A tanuki raccoon dog, an otter, a squirrel, a Japanese spaniel, and a bear.
▼ Other animals commonly seen in Edo-period Japan were badgers, foxes, and oxen.
The exotic tiger is a symbol of strength and courage in Japan. It used to be said that a tiger would return after running a distance of 1,000 ri (about 4,000 kilometres or 2,485 miles), making it a popular symbol for warriors heading off to battle.
▼ Known as the Shishi, this lion-dog is commonly located on the left-side of a pair known as Komainu, who stand guard at the entrance to shinto shrines.
The baku, a mythical beast that devours bad dreams, has tiger paws, rhinoceros eyes and an elephant’s trunk. To this day, baku talismans are kept near children’s bedsides to help ward off bad dreams.
The Kirin is said to have the body of a deer, the hooves of a horse, scales of a fish, the tail of an ox, and a single horn. Believed to live in paradise, this mythical beast personifies all that is good, peaceful and pure. A similar design can be seen today inside the logo on Kirin beer bottles.
The complete collection has become available as a series of scalable vector graphics (SVG), which means they’ll scale beautifully to any size or resolution without any annoying pixelation. It’s never been easier to print your own Japanese artwork on a scroll and bring some Edo-period charm to your home!