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Japanese artists depicted almost anything imaginable concerning humans, animals, and the natural world, and they did so with great skill and emotional power.  One sub-genre of Japanese painting that I recently became aware of is that of the fart battle (hōhi gassen 放屁合戦):

"21 Classic Images Of Japanese Fart Battles From The 19th Century", by Wyatt Redd, ati (7/23/18)

As soon as I perused this astonishing scroll, I could not get the expression "artsy-fartsy" out of my mind, and I wondered how and when English acquired such a peculiar term.  Merriam-Webster says that it's a rhyming compound based on "artsy" and "fart", and that its first known use is 1962.

Note that, in the fourteenth image of this scroll (as presented in Redd's article), an unlucky cat is stricken by the foul stench-stream from a gentleman's anus.

That fart-battle scroll (hōhi gassen emaki 放屁合戦絵巻) is held by Waseda, which generously provides a high-res PDF for our viewing pleasure.

There are others, such as this drabber piece held by the Suntory art museum.

This blog post begins with an image from an even zanier fart-battle scroll.

Nathan Hopson says that his favorite may well be this early Meiji gem depicting heiryoku 屁威力 ("fart power") a play on the homophonous heiryoku 兵力 ("military power") being used to overcome the old bakufu forces.  It's interesting that here we have a three-character expression being used as a pun for a two-character term.

Japanese art never ceases to amaze me, both for its refined wit and for its somaesthetic sensitivity and creativity.

[h.t. John Rohsenow]


  1. KevinM said,

    August 2, 2018 @ 1:49 pm

    Could it be a rude extension of another a-f hyphenate, "airy-fairy," apparently coined by Tennyson in Lilian (1830)?

  2. Linda said,

    August 2, 2018 @ 1:49 pm

    The OED takes "arty farty" a little further back to 1946.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    August 2, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

    I am intrigued by the scroll held by Waseda — had it not been for this thread, I would have been completely unaware of what was being depicted in the scroll. What are the clues that I am missing ?

  4. Terry Hunt said,

    August 2, 2018 @ 3:46 pm

    @ Philip Taylor: If you look at the images from Frame 7 onwards, I think you'll see it's quite obvious.

  5. Bill Benzon said,

    August 3, 2018 @ 3:36 am

    This reminds me of an incident from the Winnebago Trickster stories (as collected by Paul Radin). Trickster hears a plant calling to him. So he eats, and promptly starts farting. The emissions increase in force and volume, begin to liquify, and then solidify. Before you know it the ground is covered in shit. So, Trickster climbs a tree and jumps in the lake.

    It's hilarious; laughed myself silly when I first read it.

    But alas, the story looses something in the retelling.

    Ah, found a version online:

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    August 3, 2018 @ 2:24 pm

    Ah, thank you Terry — I failed to notice that what I was looking at was only page one of 36 …

  7. JonFrum said,

    August 6, 2018 @ 1:41 pm

    Turning 180 degrees, we have anasyrma – the lifting of the female skirt to expose the vagina. It shows up in art and sculpture, and in the apotropaic version demons are frightened away by the horror of the sight.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    August 6, 2018 @ 3:14 pm

    Miriam Robbins Dexter and I wrote a whole book about anasyrma. It is called Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Female Figures of Eurasia and was published by Cambria Press in 2010.

  9. Michele said,

    August 7, 2018 @ 2:36 pm

    @JonFum: "Turning 180 degrees, we have anasyrma – the lifting of the female skirt to expose the vagina."

    Surely you mean the vulva. It would take more than merely lifting the skirt to expose the vagina…. ;-)

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