Gyotaku (guh-yo-tah-koo)—the Japanese art of fish painting—originated more than 100 years ago as a way for fisherman to record the size and species of their catch. Freshly caught fish were painted with a non-toxic ink and covered with a piece of rice paper. The paper was carefully smoothed down, and then removed to produce an exact size replica of the fish. Once the print was finished, the fish could be washed and prepared for a meal. By using this technique, Japanese fisherman were able to both record and eat their catch.
Over the years Gyotaku has developed into an art form. Prints are no longer just stark black ink outlines, but colorful replicas of the original species. Gyotaku art has been displayed at museums around the world. Most recently, this art form has been used in classrooms to help students understand fish anatomy and the Japanese culture. This activity engages students of all age levels, and is an easy hands-on way to examine the natural world.