Graffiti on a Storehouse Wall
In the early 1840s, the Japanese government passed laws to limit what it saw as excessive freedom of expression among Japan’s urbanites. The laws banned the overt representation of current events in works of art and theater. Although actor images were still allowed, adding written information about the actor or his current production was forbidden. The artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi poked fun at those restrictions when he released a series of prints that purported to illustrate a wall covered with graffiti but actually contained multiple actor portraits, many accompanied by notes that hinted at the roles they were playing. The artist chose a specific term for the graffiti, nitakaragura, because it incorporates the Japanese phrase nita kara, meaning “don’t they look like?” Apparently the joke was subtle enough, because two different government censors left their seals of approval on the page.
Color woodblock print on paper
approx.: 10 × 15 in. (25.4 × 38.1 cm) (show scale)
This item is not on view
Gift of John C. Copoulos
No known copyright restrictions
This work may be in the public domain in the United States. Works created by United States and non-United States nationals published prior to 1923 are in the public domain, subject to the terms of any applicable treaty or agreement.
You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this work. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please fill out our online application form
The Museum does not warrant that the use of this work will not infringe on the rights of third parties, such as artists or artists' heirs holding the rights to the work. It is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions before copying, transmitting, or making other use of protected items beyond that allowed by "fair use," as such term is understood under the United States Copyright Act.
The Brooklyn Museum makes no representations or warranties with respect to the application or terms of any international agreement governing copyright protection in the United States for works created by foreign nationals.
For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress
, Cornell University
, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums
, and Copyright Watch
For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright
If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact email@example.com
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1798-1861). Graffiti on a Storehouse Wall, 1847. Color woodblock print on paper, approx.: 10 × 15 in. (25.4 × 38.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of John C. Copoulos, 2016.12 (Photo: , CUR.2016.12.jpg)
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
Central page from the triptych known as "Scribblings on the Storehouse Wall" (Nitakaragura kabe no mudagaki).
Vertical oban-sized print depicting a wall covered with graffiti, mostly consisting of thinly disguised portraits of well-known actors in celebrated roles. At the center is the figure of a dancing cat. This is the central page of a triptych, one of several groups (2 triptychs and 1 diptych, plus an homage by Kunichika that references the work of Kuniyoshi) of graffiti images that the artist made following new censorship laws that forbade the representation of actors. The Japanese title, Nitakaragura, is a pun, as it sounds like the phrase "nita kara," meaning "don't they resemble them?" The "dancing cat" triptych, as this group is known, differs from the other triptych in its inclusion of the lower section of the wall, with its less artistic scribblings.
The actors have been identified, running clockwise from the top center:
- Ichimura Uzaemon XII in the role of Tsukimoto Inaba Kosuke, in the play Onoe Baiju Ichidai Banasi
- Matsumoto Koshiro VI in the role of Yokogawa Kakuha in Yoshitsune senbon sakura
- Nakamura Utaemon IV in the role of Sato Tadanobu Kakuha in Yoshitsune senbon sakura
- Bando Shuka
- Sawamura Ujuro Jagatara Sanzo in the play Sawamura ski hakata no hanabishi
- Ichikawa Shinsha
Th publisher for this series is Iba-ya Sensaburo.
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome
any additional information you might have.