Gyotaku Where You Least Expect It.

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Gyotaku was born when Japanese fishermen wanted to record their catches and prove to their friends that they did not have pants on fire when they said they had a nice catch. At the beginning Gyotaku (jaio (fish)+ taku (rub) served only that purpose but since 1800s it became a separate form of art.

Imagine you go on a fishing trip and catch a one of a kind fish. It’s shiny and big.  You cut it in pieces, cook it and save some to bring home. When you return to the village you spread your arms to show how great the catch has been and suddenly see faces with doubt written all over them.

What? Yes! It was that huge! I swear! Trust me! “Yeah, yeah yeah”, the neighbors say and go home. You can’t sleep at night. How on earth can you prove to the people that you are an amazing fisherman? You toss and turn… and suddenly! Bam! You get an idea.

Next time when you go fishing,  you pack a jar of ink and a big leaf (or fabric, or anything that you find at home that will be suitable for your plan and sail away. This time you catch an even bigger fish! Lucky dog! You brush it with ink and press the fabric on it… Ta-da! You’ve just got yourself an undeniable evidence of catching some serious fish.

When you go back to the village your dubious neibors do not believe your story again but this time you spread the print before the eyes of the astounded crowd. You are the best fisherman!  And an amazing artist for that matter. You have just given birth to the fish printing art.

The image is borrowed from

For this project you will need:

  1. Rubber fish replica. This one is of good quality. The kids named it Mr. Flopsy and it now lives in our son’s room.
  2. Plain T-shirts. You can get any color as long as it’s white. :)Just kidding! Seriously, any color. Simply adjust the fabric paint. We’ve got t-shirts like this because I already had some and bought a few more for the rest of my students.
  3. Fabric paints. I forgot to order them online so I had to buy locally. You can find them easily in craft stores or order from Amazon.
  4. We used dimensional paints after the fish print got dry but that is optional. It looked cute though…
  5. Paper towels, of course.

The Gyotaku project does not take long. Only if you share a fish mold and help out younger kids it might take about 40 minutes, including getting the stuff ready and decorating the T-shirt a little more.

1. Cover your fish replica with fabric paint. One color is fine, mix some more if you wish.

2. Put a couple of paper towels inside the shirt where your print is going to be. This way if the paint soaks through, paper towels will catch it.

3. You can carefully pick up the painted fish or you can press a t-shirt on the painted fish. The second way makes easier to transfer all the fine details because you can smooth it with your hands and press on every bit of surface.

4. You will end up having something like this:

It can be the final result but however if the kids wish to decorate more (mine wanted) , you can offer dimensional paints. The t-shirts will be quite spectacular.

Leave the t-shirts flat overnight or longer if the paint is thick.

Message to moms: You can wash the painted t-shirts on Cotton/Normal cycle if you turn them inside out. 

Have fun with this project. Listen to the Japanese music or discuss some fascinating facts about the country. You can find additional information here or here.

Show in the comments, how your project’s turned out.

Enjoy the class!





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