Icon Feb 13, 2010

Octopus-Samurai and Farmer (Hokusai, ~1839)

One of the earlier octopus political cartoons/caricature comes from Japan by Katsushika Hokusai. It depicts an octopus dressed as a samurai sitting on a pile of potatoes. It is in a pulling competition with a farmer over a mattock. The Pacific Asia Museum (2006) summarised the context in which this painting was created:

It has been suggested that this scene represents the struggle between the samurai warriors and the farmers of the Edo period. In 1838, a year before the drawing was made, there was a poor rice crop, so there was a shortage of rice in 1839. Hokusai’s image may represent the farmers’ hatred of the oppressive samurai landlords, which sometimes led to revolt. Hokusai, who himself came from a working-class background, may have been criticizing the injustice of the social system of his time. 1

Octopus-Samurai and Farmer (Katsushika Hokusai, ~1839)

Katsushika Hokusai (circa 1839): Drawing, ink on coloured paper, http://www.pacificasiamuseum.org/japanesepaintings/html/essay3.stm(Accessed: 13th Jan 2009).


  1. The Nature of the Beast: Animals in Japanese Paintings and Prints (2006), Pacific Asia Museum http://www.pacificasiamuseum.org/japanesepaintings/html/essay3.stm (Accessed: 13th Jan 2009).