The red stamp you see in the
images was made in Japan and reads
"Gyotaku from Mazatlan" in Kanji.
1. Catch a fish you like.
2. Text us to come pick up your fish for printing.
3. The next day or same day if a rush we deliver your Gyotaku to you with the filets from your fish.
1. We frame your Gyotaku with non-reflective glass.
2. We deliver in a cardboard tube safe for traveling.
3. Fabric Gyotaku is a dropdown display with dowels.
Gyotaku (pronounced Gee-oh-tak-oo)
The specific form of Gyotaku probably emerged in mid-19th-century Japan, according to Rachel Ramirez, a printmaker who wrote her doctoral thesis on Gyotaku at the University of Porto in Portugal. The procedure is quite similar to Chinese stone rubbing, an ancient method of reproducing inscriptions originally made in metal, bone, or stone. It follows that the two kanji characters that combine to form “gyotaku” translate literally into “fish” (gyo) and “rubbing” (taku). The earliest known example of gyotaku—though this is somewhat contested—traces the form of a carp caught in the Mogami River in 1857. The print can now be seen in Japan’s Yamagata prefecture, at the Honma Museum, which boasts the richest collection of historic Gyotaku prints anywhere in the world.
In its heyday, Gyotaku was a fisherman’s best bet for bragging rights. It was used to document “trophy catches”—anything big or unusual enough that other fishermen would need to see it to believe it. As photography had just been invented and definitely could not be used on a fishing boat in roiling waves, fishermen kept on board a chest of rice paper, nontoxic sumi-e ink, and a set of brushes. As soon they caught a fish, it was a simple matter of dipping it in ink and slapping it on a piece of paper. After printing the catch, the fishermen would simply rinse off the ink and either release the fish, take it to market, or eat it themselves. These prints were not artful at that time, but more utilitarian. As the trend caught on, fishermen began adding to their prints with brushes, such as the detail of an eye or the color of scales.
Soon, knowledge of gyotaku spread to the West. In the 1950s, a Tokyo gyotaku enthusiast group called Gyotaku-no-kai organized an exhibition of prints that eventually traveled to the city’s Museum of Natural History. In 1964, Yoshio Hiyama, one of the founding members of the organization, published Gyotaku: The Art and Technique of the Japanese Fish Print, a text largely responsible for introducing the practice to an international audience. Hiyama, who worked as a fisheries research scientist, connected with colleagues at the Smithsonian, who began to recognize the potential of gyotaku as a tool for research and accurate scientific illustration. Now gyotaku is used most commonly in conservation work, primarily as an educational tool for marine animal anatomy.
That said, many fishing villages in Japan continue gyotaku in a purely utilitarian way. Each year the city of Osaka hosts an enormous fishing and angling expo, where people can show off their trophy gyotaku prints. In Keelung Prison in northern Taiwan, artist Yan Shang-wen teaches gyotaku art classes as part of a rehabilitation program, according to the Taipei Times. In 2015, his pupils held an art show at the Keelung City Hall.
But to purists such as Hayashi, Gyotaku is only Gyotaku if you follow all three key steps—catch, print, eat.
Hayashi sees his practice as directly descended from traditional Japanese fishing culture. He regularly helps clients and their children, who have caught their first fish, for example, and want to memorialize their prize—before they eat it. “That happens only once in a lifetime,” he says. “To capture it in this format and have it as a family treasure, that’s the true value of gyotaku.”
To avoid animal cruelty or contributing to the global overfishing crisis, Hayashi and many other modern gyotaku artists try to avoid waste in pursuit of their art. Unlike in the past, gyotaku practitioners no longer make prints of specimens while they are alive. Hayashi always eats his art supplies (though some don’t, out of fear the fish will spoil during the printing process). Another artist, Heather Fortner of Toledo, Oregon, uses only dead fish that wash up on her local beach. She makes several prints of each fish before burying them in her yard for fertilizer.
Hayashi elects to catch his fish himself, which he admits is the hardest part of gyotaku. And he prefers spearfishing to hooks and lures. “You become this little particle floating in the ocean, and you lose all sense of self. Like you’re a part of this Earth,” he says. When he’s out in the blue, spear in hand, Hayashi seeks out wahoo in particular—“ono” in Hawaiian, an enormous, slithering, iridescent mackerel with razor sharp teeth. Wahoo is challenging to catch, but rewarding to print and delicious to eat.