This Woodcut from 19th-Century Japan Reveals Deep LOLcat History

By Annalee Newitz on at

This video is an animation based on a Japanese woodcut called "Popular Hotspring Spa (of Cats)." It's from 1880, but artist Utagawa Yoshifuji's imaginary world of spa cats looks like something that's unfolding at the intersection of LOLcats and internetville.

This woodcut is just one of many on display at New York's Japan Society right now. They've put together a terrific exhibition called "The Life of Cats," collecting over 100 Edo Period woodcuts that translate surprisingly well into modern cat humour. They range from adorable to anthropomorphic, and span the 17th through to the 19th century. Here's what the Japan Society has to say about the exhibit:

Since arriving in Japan aboard Japanese ships transporting sacred Buddhist scriptures from China in the mid-sixth century, cats have proceeded to purr and paw their way into the heart of Japanese life, folklore, and art. Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection illustrates the depth of this mutual attraction by mining the wealth of bravura depictions of cats to be found in ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the Edo Period (1615-1868).

Ninety ukiyo-e prints in the exhibition are on loan from the esteemed Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation whose holdings are revered in Japan. Select prints, paintings, sculptures, and other works borrowed from US collections complement these prints, making the exhibition over 120 artworks. With cross-cultural and multi-generational appeal, Life of Cats takes viewers on a wild ride through Japan's love affair with our feline friends.

You can see part one of the exhibition through April 29. After that, all the art works will be replaced with different ones — still on the theme of Edo cats. You can see part two of the exhibit through June 7. Find out more at New York's Japan Society.