This lesson, centered around a 2010 exhibition, utilizes woodblock prints from late Feudal Japan to explore the cultural significance of tattoos in Japanese art and society.
Description: This lesson is based on the 2010 exhibition, “Under the Skin: Tattoos in Japanese Prints.” The exhibition featured woodblock prints primarily from the Edo Period (1615-1868) and some woodblock prints and photographs from the Meiji (1912-1926) and Taisho Periods (1912-1926) that illuminate the social background, iconography, and visual splendor of Japanese tattoos. This online gallery focuses on several pairs of prints that depict, on the one hand, a story or legend from Japanese traditions, and on the other, a figure with a tattoo of that specific story.
Learning Goals: Exploring this lesson, you will discover:
• The art of woodblock prints and its relationship with the art of tattoos
• The cultural significance of tattoos in Japanese society and tradition
• The relationship between the visual arts and oral traditions, historical legends, drama, and popular culture
This discovery will require students to:
• Look closely at objects and observe details
• Use prior knowledge in conjunction with observation
• Generate hypotheses based on observation and prior knowledge
Using this Resource:
• Language Arts teachers and students will be interested in the connection between image and text. They will explore literary sources for the subjects of the prints and compare the two methods of communication and narration.
• Social Studies teachers and students will be interested in what this lesson reveals about Japanese history and culture.
• Art teachers and students will be interested in the techniques and design of woodblock printing and tattoos.
• World Language teachers and students will be interested in studying the culture that produced the Japanese language.
For sample related classroom activities, download the PDF available under Related Resources at the bottom of this page. The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web resource—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into the art of Japanese woodblock prints.