Art of Asia
- Edo period, an introduction
- Tea bowl with dragon roundels
- Scenes from The Tale of Genji
- Genji Ukifune
- Dog chasing
- A portrait of St. Francis Xavier and Christianity in Japan
- Ogata Kōrin, Red and White Plum Blossoms
- Hon’ami Kōetsu, Folding Screen mounted with poems
- Archery practice
- The evolution of ukiyo-e and woodblock prints
- Utagawa Kunisada I, Visiting Komachi, from the series Modern Beauties as the Seven Komachi
- Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave)
- Beyond the Great Wave — Hokusai at 90
- Hokusai’s printed illustrated books
- Hokusai, Five Beautiful Women
- The Floating World of Edo Japan
- Hunting for fireflies
- Street scene in the pleasure quarter of Edo Japan
- Courtesan playing with a cat
- Courtesans of the South Station
- An introduction to Kabuki theater
- The actor Ichikawa Danzo IV in a Shibaraku role
- Fire procession costume
- Arrival of a Portuguese ship
- Matchlock gun and pistol
- Military camp jacket
- Military leader's fan
- An American ship
- The steamship Powhatan
- Conserving the Gan Ku Tiger scroll painting at the British Museum
What activity is taking place here?
Dog chasing was one of three archery drills popular during the Edo period (1615–1868). Originally an exercise to improve martial skills, it became a formal sport with defined rules as early as the fourteenth century.
The right-hand screen represents an early stage of the game. Around a circle formed by a heavy rope laid on the ground, archers wait for a dog to be released. The archers wear a special costume, which includes a hat, sword, and fur chaps. Two additional groups of seventeen archers each are lined up along the fence on either side of the field.
The rules of the game stipulate that when the dog passes over the rope it may be shot with heavily padded arrows, only in the torso, with hits on the head or limbs counting as errors with penalty points. If the dog escapes without being hit, the archers may pursue it into the outer field, as shown in the left-hand screen. The archer’s skill and accuracy was judged according to the accuracy of his hits (each had three arrows) and the length of the ensuing chase.
What is the relationship of this activity to samurai life? Who are the people watching the spectacle?
By its very nature, dog chasing required great equestrian and archery skills, making it the domain of the samurai class. First mentioned in a historical account dating to the early thirteenth century, dog chasing gained importance in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) as a means of honing the skills of the newly dominant warrior class. It remained popular throughout the Muromachi period (1333–1568), but in the late sixteenth century, fewer dog chases were held as samurai became occupied with civil wars instead of martial sports.
When peace returned and the Edo shogunate restored traditional festivals, the Shimazu clan of Satsuma Province organized a dog chasing event in 1646. The popularity of the game quickly revived, and it soon began to attract crowds of townspeople who regarded it as lively entertainment. In addition to samurai, the viewers’ stands in these screens are filled with spectators from all walks of life—housewives, children, monks, Shinto priests, nuns, and doctors.
Who would have owned a screen like this?
Given the subject matter and expense of this elaborate pair of gold-ground screens, the owner was likely to have been a wealthy samurai, perhaps a particular fan of the dog chasing event. By the 17th century when this screen was made, ritualized displays of martial prowess like dog chasing had come to replace real military experience for many samurai.
Want to join the conversation?
- Great skills but poor doggies(4 votes)
- Do the padded arrows prevent injury to the dog?(3 votes)
- Likely not because the pads would be made of leather so the dog would be lucky if it got just a broken bone or bruise because of the coarse material(2 votes)
- It was a tradition for the Japanese(1 vote)
- Indeed, it was a tradition and a sport, but only for SOME Japanese of SOME social classes.
It was not a sport for the dogs, though.(1 vote)
- why would you want to kill dogs ever?(0 votes)
- I wouldn't want to. It happens at government-run animal shelters all over the world on a daily basis, though. And it's regular in China, otherwise, how would they have a dog meat festival?