Otsu-e (Otsu paintings, named after the town of Otsu in Shiga Prefecture) (大津絵)

In a collection at The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Otsu-e is a style of painting and local specialty which Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, has been noted for from the early Edo period. The subject of these paintings varied, and among those who traveled Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi (53 stages in Tokai-do Road) the paintings were known as a souvenier or a charm.

The name of 'Otsu-e' is also used to refer to the original song, ongyoku (a popular old-style Japanese song accompanied by shamisen music), a folk song (Otsu-e bushi) which shares the subject of Otsu-e, and also a kind of classical Japanese dance based on Otsu-e bushi (Otsu-e dancing).


The birthplace of Otsu-e is Oiwake Station (Higechaya-oiwake [Higashichaya bisection]) in Omi Province (Shiga Prefecture), which was to the west of Osaka no seki (the Osaka Barrier), Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi. During the Kanei era (1624-1644), Otsu-e began to be painted as Buddhist paintings. At first they were painted as a form of expressing one's faith, but before long they transformed into secular paintings, and since the 18th century, they came to be accompanied with educational and satirical didactic poems.

The early characteristics of Otsue which contained many Buddhist paintings are well expressed in the haiku by Basho MATSUO, 'Various kinds of Buddha are drawn in Otsu-e, so which one will the painter draw in the New Year.'
Also, it is said that during the oppression of Christianity during the early Edo period, the Otsu-e were used as a perfect guise to say that 'I am a Buddhist.'

Throughout the Edo period, they had been the specialty of Otsu-juku Station on the Tokaido road.
During the eras of Bunka and Bunsei (1804-1829), the representative subjects of Otsu-e painting called 'Ten kinds of Otsu-e' were decided, meanwhile its effectiveness as a charm came to be advocated; ('Fujimusume' (wisteria maiden) is effective for helping find a good match, 'Ogre's reciting Buddhist invocations in midwinter' is to help babies crying at night, and 'raijin (the god of thunder) sugata katachi (form)' will prevent being struck by lightning, etc.)
The subjects of the paintings continued to increase, and reached its peak at the end of the Edo Period. However, with the simplification of the subjects, there has been a decline, and now it is said that there are over 100 kinds of subjects.


The gods, Buddha, people, and animals are painted humorously, and a didactic poem is added. In many paintings and didactic poems, human relationships and the teachings of society are expressed satirically.

Major subjects

* This is attached to the main subjects called '10 kinds of Otsu-e.'

Subjects that have references are noted.

Buddhist painting

Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata)

Jusanbutsu shinko (Thirteen Buddhist beliefs)

Shomen Kongo (Blue-faced Guardian Deity)

Senju Kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy with a 1000 arms)

Fudo Myoo (Acala, one of the Five Wisdom Kings)

Secular painting

Ogre's reciting Buddhist invocations in midwinter *

Fukurokuju (tall headed god of happiness, wealth, and long life) (Geho no hashigo sori) *

Fuji musume (wisteria maiden) * see also 'Fuji musume'

A woman reading a letter

A woman holding an umbrella

Onna komuso (female begging Zen priest of the Fukeshu sect [wearing a sedge hood and playing a shakuhachi bamboo flute])

Hyotan namazu (a bottle gourd and a catfish) * see also 'Hyotan namazu'
A humorous painting in which a Japanese monkey tries to use a gourd to pin down a giant catfish which is causing an earthquake.
See also 'A painting of a cat fish.'

Takajo (a hawker)

Zato (the title of the official ranks within the Todo-za (the traditional guild for the blind)) *

Rai-ko (Duke Thunder) (the god of thunder trying to catch a drum) * see also 'Raijin sugata katachi.'

A paper lantern and a hanging bell

A man holding a spear *

A cat and a mouse

Musashibo Benkei with a long sword *

MINAMOTO no Tametomo (Ya no Negoro) *

Ogre's pilgrimage: See the picture at the upper right.

[Original Japanese]