An eel slithers up to cups of sake placed at a river’s edge, while a goldfish atop a rock bravely swings a makeshift sword, protecting his cowering charge. Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) caricatures multiple mythical and everyday scenes in his series The “Myriad Goldfish.” This particular print illustrates an enactment of the slaying of Yamata no Orochi, a fearsome multi-headed serpent by the Shinto storm god, Susanoo, as described in the ancient Japanese text, the “Kojiki” (712).

Giga, a genre of farcical pictures of comical intent, has its origin in the Heian Period (794-1185) National Treasure “Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans,” attributed to Kakuyu (1053-1140), also known as Toba Sojo (Bishop of Toba). “Caricatures of the Edo Period” at the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts, however, has a narrower historical focus on the simply painted humorous pictures and illustrations, designated as toba-e, that became popular in Osaka (formerly Naniwa) in the 18th century.

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