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Learn the Art of Gyotaku (japanese Fish Printing)

The ancient art of Gyotaku, also known as Japanese fish printing, has captivated artists and nature enthusiasts for centuries. This unique technique involves creating detailed prints of fish using ink and paper. It not only captures the intricate beauty of marine life but also serves as a way to preserve the memory of a catch. In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of Gyotaku and delve into the process, tools, and history behind this traditional Japanese art form.

The History of Gyotaku

Gyotaku originated in the early 1800s in Japan, where it was mainly used by fishermen to record their catches. Before the advent of photography, Gyotaku provided a means to document the size and species of the fish. The word “Gyotaku” translates to “fish rubbing” in Japanese, reflecting the printing process involved.

The Process of Gyotaku

To create a Gyotaku print, the fish is first cleaned and prepared. The artist then applies ink or paint to the fish, ensuring that every scale and fin is covered. Next, a sheet of paper is carefully placed on top of the fish, and pressure is gently applied to transfer the ink onto the paper. The paper is peeled away, revealing a detailed impression of the fish.

Tools for Gyotaku

Traditionally, Gyotaku was done using sumi ink, a type of black ink made from soot. However, modern artists have expanded their palette to include a range of colorful inks and paints. In addition to ink, various brushes, rice paper, and printing presses are used to achieve different effects. Some artists even incorporate real fish eyes or add additional details with watercolors or colored pencils.

Tips for Beginners

If you’re interested in trying your hand at Gyotaku, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Choose a fish with interesting textures and patterns. The more intricate the details, the more fascinating the print will be.

2. Experiment with different inks and papers to find the combination that suits your style. Some artists prefer traditional sumi ink for its rich, dark tones, while others enjoy the vibrancy of colored inks.

3. Practice proper fish handling and preservation techniques to ensure the fish remains intact during the printing process. This includes cleaning, gutting, and freezing the fish soon after catching it.

4. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Gyotaku allows for artistic interpretation, so feel free to experiment with different compositions and backgrounds.

The Beauty of Gyotaku

Gyotaku prints are not only visually stunning but also capture the essence of the fish itself. Each print tells a unique story, preserving the memory of the catch and celebrating the beauty of marine life. Gyotaku is not just an art form; it’s a way to connect with nature and appreciate the wonders of the underwater world.


Gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish printing, offers a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage and deep connection to nature found in Japanese artistry. By practicing Gyotaku, artists can create beautiful prints that capture the intricacies of fish while preserving their memories. Whether you’re an artist looking to explore a new technique or simply appreciate the beauty of marine life, Gyotaku is an art form worth exploring. So grab your ink, paper, and a fish, and dive into the captivating world of Gyotaku.