The Great Japanese Fart Wars

Text by Johnny Crisp

Between 1603 and 1868 in Japan, under the rule of the last feudal military government – the Togukawa shogunate – there was a period defined by economic stability, fiercely isolationist foreign policy, and the imposition of a strict social order. Known as the Edo period, the various social and political conditions combined to produce a boom in the creation, enjoyment, and appreciation of the arts. Take, for example, the woodblock print loved the world over: The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Or: these scrolls of people attacking other people by farting in their faces.

The scrolls, attributable only to ‘an unnamed artist or artists’, depict He-Gassen (屁合戦), roughly translatable as “the fart war”. They have been interpreted as a comment on societal unease concerning the arrival of European influence on social and political spheres in Japan, and they are quite funny.

So, if you ever find yourself scrolling through Tumblr, despairing at the juvenile and crass state of contemporary art, know that this has been the case for centuries. Or perhaps you too are an artist, battling every day with the possibility that your work might be childish or pointless. Take comfort, then, in the knowledge that ever since cavemen started scribbling on walls, people have been making inane art. And know that, centuries from now, someone might still care enough to laugh about it.

You can enjoy the whole script, archived here by Tokyo’s Waseda University.

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