Feline Frenzy: Japan Society Show Spotlights the Cats of Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints

Japanese woodblocks are the new cat videos

Utagawa Hiroshige, "Cat Crossing to Eat," 1830–44 (Photo courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation).

Utagawa Hiroshige, “Cat Crossing to Eat,” 1830–44 (Photo courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation).

Forget YouTube: cats went viral in Japanese woodblock prints centuries ago.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, "Chrysanthemums," 1844-48 (Photo courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation).

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, “Chrysanthemums,” 1844-48 (Photo courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation).

Japan Society will present “Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection” from March 13 to June 7, an exhibition of ukiyo-e woodblock prints from Japan’s Edo Period (between 1615 and 1867). Woodblock stamps were used in Japan starting in the early 17th century to reproduce written texts, and in the 18th century printmakers began making popular full-color prints.

The works on display at Japan Society all include cats shown in scenes of Japanese daily life, and there promises to be something for everyone in the five different sections: “Cats and People,” “Cats as People,” “Cats Versus People,” “Cats Transformed,” and “Cats and Play.”

The Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation in Tokyo loaned 90 prints to Japan Society for the exhibition, and the show will appear in two installments. Half will be on display through April 26, and the other half from April 29 to June 7. Another 30 cat-centric paintings, manga, books, and porcelain figures will complement the prints.

Utagawa Kunisada II, "Kashiwagi," 1848-54 (Photo courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation).

Utagawa Kunisada II, “Kashiwagi,” 1848-54 (Photo courtesy Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation).

On the first day of the exhibition, Japan Society will host the lecture “Playful Heart: Cats in Ukiyo-e Prints” by Mitsunobu Sato, director of the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation. And if you’re still desperate to see your cats on video, check out Japan Society Gallery’s YouTube channel, which gives you in-depth tours of some of the prints in the show.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, "Cats Suggested by the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō," 1847 (Photo courtesy private collection, New York).

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, “Cats Suggested by the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō,” 1847 (Photo courtesy private collection, New York).

Feline Frenzy: Japan Society Show Spotlights the Cats of Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints