Fishing lore is full of tales about “the one that got away,” and fishermen have been known to exaggerate the size of their catch. The bragging problem is apparently so bad, Texas even has a law on the books that makes lying about the size or provenance of a fish caught in a tournament an offense that could come with a felony charge.
But in 19th-century Japan, some enterprising fishermen found a foolproof way to record trophy catches. (Some versions of this origin story suggest they did so at the emperor’s behest.) The method was known as gyotaku, or “fish rubbing,” and allowed fishermen to print inked fish onto paper — creating a permanent record of their size. They used a nontoxic sumi-e ink, a black ink traditionally used in both writing and painting which could be easily washed off. Once the print was made, the fish was either released, if it was still alive, or sold at market.
Credit: (top) Courtesy of Heather Fortner, (bottom) Courtesy of Derek Yoshinori Wada