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“He-gassen” (1846 or 1864, late Edo period), ink on paper (via Wikipedia). Scroll to see the whole thing, beginning on the right and moving left.
Because there’s a snowstorm bearing down on us in New York, and because last night I sat through Matthew Barney’s new six-hour film, which deals heavily in bodily secretions, today seems like a good day to alert readers to the existence of something wondrous and wonderful: an illustrated scroll from Japan’s Edo period (1603–1867) depicting a fart battle.
‘What is a fart battle?’ you may be wondering. Well, the term for it in Japanese is he-gassen (hehe, also the name of the scroll), which, according to the Daily Mail, translates to “fart battle” or “fart competition.” And yes, the images in the artwork show people bending all the way over, pulling down their pants, and unleashing powerful, monumental farts as a weapon — shaded cones of gas aimed against buildings, other people, cats, and even part of a tree trunk. Made by an unknown artist or artists, the scroll is quite amazing, cartoonlike and silly yet also finely, carefully rendered.
And it turns out the he-gassen does have a deeper meaning beyond the eternal comicality of flatulence: it represents the Japanese reaction to intruding Westerners during the Edo period. “Apparently, similar drawings were used to ridicule westerners towards the end of the Edo period, with images depicting the westerners blown away by Japanese farts,” writes a blogger at Naruhodo, drawing on a book called A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. Which means there are other fart battle artworks! Several prints in the same vein sold at Christie’s London for £935 ($1,580) in 1992.
But thanks to Waseda University Library, the entirety of this one, epic he-gassen scroll is viewable online. We’ve embedded it above; just keep scrolling to see the whole thing — although, like Japanese writing, the story actually begins on the far right, with five picnickers sitting and enjoying a healthy pre–fart battle laugh (as you do). Enjoy the scroll today, and every day, because there’s never not a good time to be gassin’.
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