An image of School for Spooks ('Bakebake gakko') No. 3

Kawanabe Kyōsai

(Japan 1831 – 1889)

School for Spooks ('Bakebake gakko') No. 3

Not on display
Further information

Kawanabe Kyōsai was a well-known artist during his lifetime. He was legendary for the work he produced including calligraphy and painting parties known as 'shogakai'. Kyōsai could generate paintings so rapidly that he was able to sell them at the same party (Clark, 17). Kyōsai was also known for his comic and satirical subjects depicted in ‘crazy pictures’ ('kyōga').

'School for Spooks' was one of Kyōsai’s many satirical prints. Visibly produced during the Meiji period (1868-1912), a time when the introduction of the westernisation to Japan influenced both art and culture, the work alludes to the introduction of the opportunity of comprehensive education for all. The print depicts two western style classrooms with a number of identifiable goblins, demons and monsters. One of the main characters at the top right is Shōki, the demon queller (Chinese: Zhong Kui), depicted as a scary, fearsome, ugly creature with a long beard and penetrating eyes. Usually his character is portrayed wearing a long robe, old boots, a worn-out scholar’s cap and wielding a sword. In this image, he is a teacher in western style clothing and cap, teaching the student demons hell related vocabulary and brandishing a cane. It is not unusual that Shōki is referenced as someone of learning: as the story goes, in China he failed his civil service examination and committed suicide. Another story tells he received first class in the examination, but that the emperor Xuanzong thought he was so ugly that he rejected his application to be a court doctor.

In the second classroom, at middle left, stands a kappa acting as a teacher pointing to the romanised letters on the board. Kappa are water imps or water goblins (lit. ‘river child’), found in Japanese folklore. Kappa can be recognised by a small pool of water on top of their head, with the paradoxical habit of warning children about being near rivers but at the same time luring them into the water to save their lives. The words portrayed are vocabulary of or for their favourite things such as SHI RI GO TA MA (shirikotama) - a mythical ball inside the anus sought by kappas especially if you fell in a river; GIOORI (kyūri) - cucumbers; and KA WA (kawa) - rivers.

There are a number of other exploits taking place with identifiable characters including at lower right, where numerous demons are trying to get into the school through the gates but are being blown away by what looks to be a giant demon head – the Japanese wind god Fujin.

Reference: Timothy Clark, Demon of Painting: The art of Kawanabe Kyosai, British Museum, 1993.

Place of origin
Japan: Meiji period 1868–1912
woodblock print; ink and colour on paper
37.1 x 25.0 cm
Signature & date

Signed l.l. cartouche, in Japanese, printed " Seisei Kyōsai"

Yasuko Myer Bequest Fund 2018
Accession number