Now For Something Completely Different

Last year my assistant theatre manager gave me a calendar of Japanese wood block prints from MFA Boston. Most of the works included are several hundred years old and have really enjoyed looking at these past months.

Many of you may be under the impression that art from this period was very stylized and refined, and you would generally be right.

However…the subject matter which artists dealt with is another subject altogether. A scroll created by an unknown artist of the Edo Period, quite aptly named “He Gassen” tells the story of the “Great Fart War,” pre-dating Monty Python by about 200 years.

The scroll was digitized by Waseda University and all the images can be viewed on their website. Note that the proper sequence requires you to start at the top right and proceed left across the page.

While the scroll’s key demographic may strike you as being an eight year old boy, you might find yourself bookmarking this page depicting Japanese men in various degrees of undress discharging their attacks from atop horses, attempting to erect protective barriers and “recharging” around great pots of food, as something of a guilty pleasure.

You may not have credited the Japanese of the Edo period with this sort of humor. To some degree you would be correct, this period was characterized by strict Japanese isolationism. The He-Gassen scrolls are said to have reflected the anti-Western sentiment of the time.

Again, not unlike the sentiments expressed by the Frenchman toward the Englishman in the Monty Python video.

Believe it or not the “fart battle” was a fairly common subject of the time. Christie’s auction house sold fart war scrolls by another artist for about $1,500.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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