Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Tiger Art

Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Tiger Art

Welcome to this lens dedicated to the tiger art of China, Korea, and Japan! Tiger art from these three countries has become famous all around the world and many tiger paintings, sculptures, statues, and other forms of art have been made in these countries over the centuries. Many have been purchased by art collectors the world over.

In this lens we’ll study the tiger art from each country, the characteristics of tiger art in these countries, and the meaning of the tiger in the traditions and folklore of China, Japan, and Korea.

Thank you for your visit and I hope you find this lens informative!

Lens intro image: Edo-period Japanese artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s (1797-1861) tiger print. Image used courtesy of

Table of Contents

Korean Tiger Art
Chinese and Japanese Tiger Posters on Amazon
Chinese Tiger Art
Japanese Tiger Art
Kishi Ganku Tiger Painting
Tiger Statues and Sculptures
Tiger Tattoos
In Conclusion
Tiger Art Link List
From the Same Author
New Guestbook

Korean Tiger Art

Traditional Korean Minhwa (folk) painting of a tiger and a magpie. In Korea, tiger art has been very popular over the millinea, especially in traditional Joseon-era Korean folk art (known as “Minhwa”).

Tigers made some of their earliest appearances in Koguryo paintings where they were being chased down by archers on horseback. Many of these mural paintings can still be found today on Koguryo-era temple walls in modern-day North Korea.

Tigers are an important character in traditional Korean beliefs and folklore and the mythical white tiger is traditionally the guardian of the East. Until the 1920s, the Siberian white tiger called Korea home and the tiger is mentioned in the creation myth of Ko-choson, which is one of Korea’s first dynasties. Tigers are one of the most common and prominent subjects of folk paintings, and are often portrayed as being friendly, approachable, and even silly or stupid. This stands in contrast to the artwork of most other countries where the tiger is portrayed as being an intelligent, proud, and fierce animal! In many folk paintings, the tiger is a companion to the mountain spirits. Many Korean folk paintings feature a magpie (a bird that’s considered to be an auspicious omen and a bearer of good news) cackling at a tiger, or the tiger with a lion or rooster. Tiger skins were also painted by minhwa artists and were much more affordable to the common person than real tiger skins. These paintings were supposed to invoke the tiger’s guardian powers.

However, the tiger also has more serious portrayals in Korea. Many Koreans believe the tiger is a mountain god that can determine the fate of a person. Also to many Koreans, the tiger is the guardian spirit of Korea. Tiger decorations can be found in many Buddhist temples and shamanistic ritual sites across Korea and tigers are also found on mural walls of many of Korea’s ancient kingdoms such as Koguryo and Paekche. And of course the tiger has also been the silly, clumsy animal in many a Korean folk painting and folktale.

In 1988, the tiger took on a new significance for Koreans when a tiger was chosen to be the mascot for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. The tiger was named Hodori (derived from “horang-i dori,” or “boy tiger,” in Korean) and he was featured on many an Olympic souvenir item that year! There was also a female tiger named Hosuni, but she was rarely used.

Chinese and Japanese Tiger Posters on Amazon

Here are some nice reproductions of the famous Chinese and Japanese tiger paintings of centuries ago (as well as some modern-day artwork) available in poster format from Amazon:

Chinese Tiger Art

A Song Dynasty, Shaoxing Period-era (1159 AD) illustration of a tiger from a medical book. In Chinese culture, the tiger is revered as a creature of great courage, prowess, and beauty. It is the king of the wild and is a creature of masculine principles. The Chinese tiger has the power to drive away demons and ghosts and brings good fortune and luck to all those who keep its image close at hand. Furthermore, the tiger represents the basic drive to progress, achieve, and succeed. Also according to traditional Chinese beliefs, a tiger lives to be 1,000 years old and when it reaches the age of 500, it turns white. Therefore any tigers in Chinese white tiger artwork are said to have passed the age of 500 years.

Tiger statues dating back some 7,000 years have been found in China and tigers are carved on many a tomb or monument. Many of the Chinese deities and legendary figures such as the Taoist “First Master of Heaven” Zhang Daoling, the God of Wealth Chao Gongming, and (occasionally) the mythological exorciser/ghost vanquisher Zhong Kui are often depicted riding a tiger in Chinese art.

For all these reasons, Chinese tiger art is displayed prominently in many Chinese businesses, offices, and homes. In addition, tigers appear on children’s clothing and many women in southern China place paper tiger images in their homes on the birthday of the tiger (March 6th, or the second moon of the lunar calendar) to prevent quarrels and to keep vermin such as snakes and rats away.

In Guizhou province, many of China’s ethnic minorities such as the Miao incorporate tiger motifs into batik artwork. Many of these pieces are very stunning and intricate.

Tiger paintings in China can range from folk art paintings to simple watercolors to modern paintings most people nowadays associate with the Chinese tiger. All of these paintings have one thing in common: they capture the ferocity and gracefulness of the tiger for all to see!

Japanese Tiger Art

Tiger art is also prominent in Japanese culture. The white tiger in particular is a common motif in Japanese paintings and artwork due to its status as a deity in the Shinto religion. Ironically enough, tigers aren’t native to Japan, which is why many Japanese artists from centuries past copied their works from the Chinese paintings.

Three Japanese artists who became particularly famous for tiger paintings during the Edo period were Kishi Ganku (1749 or 56-1839), Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795), and Katayama Yokoku. Ganku had the head of a tiger which became the basis of many of his paintings while Okyo had a tiger pelt which made drawing a tiger’s skin very easy. Yokoku’s paintings often depicted tigers as a traditional symbol of strength, and the tigers in his paintings are often shown emerging from bamboo.

In addition, other prominent Edo-era Japanese artists such as Okyo’s student Kameoka Kirei (1770-1835), Ganku’s son-in-law Kishi Renzan (1805-59), Kano Tsunenobu (1636-1713), and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) painted some very famous tiger paintings. Hokusai’s “Old Tiger in the Snow” and “Running Tiger” as well as Kirei’s “Tiger Looking to the Moon” are staple Japanese tiger paintings from this period.

The popularity of tiger art continued during the Meiji era (1868-1912) in Japan. Artists such as woodblock (Ukiyo-e) artist Koson Ohara (1877-1945) made some amazing tiger paintings and woodblock prints during this period.

Since tigers are not native to Japan, it was not very easy to find a live tiger to get all the facial and body features down exactly as it was in China. However, there was an abundance of tiger skins and the Japanese artists of the time often based their paintings on these skins. This is why in many of the paintings the tiger’s skin is beautifully accurate, but in other paintings the tiger has a flat nose, abnormally large eyes, large paws, and small ears!

Tigers were also frequently used on the banners and wall paintings of samurai, to whom the tiger represented ferocity, strength, courage, and stubbornness, as it still does to the Japanese people to this very day.

Today tigers are still painted by many Japanese artists both on canvas and brush and in modern-day computer vector drawings. These artists have picked up where artists of centuries past such as Ganku and Okyo have left off!

Kishi Ganku Tiger Painting

This is one of Kishi Ganku’s paintings of a tiger. Notice the flat head and small ears on this tiger. This is very typical for Japanese tiger paintings from that period of time.

Tiger Statues and Sculptures

In addition to paintings, tiger statues and sculptures are commonplace in China, Japan, and Korea. Generally speaking, the statues and sculptures have all the same meaning as the paintings, but some have had and still have traditional uses.

In Japan during the Edo Period (1600-1848 AD), small tiger dolls made of papier mache known as Harikonotora were carried by travelers on the Tokaido highway. These were especially popular among samurai lords who believed the tiger could travel a thousand miles with ease and the dolls would inspire his entourage to do the same. Also many years ago in Japan, small tiger sculptures were given to boys on Boy’s Day (now known as Children’s Day) as a token to protect them from evil spirits and to foster growth and maturity.

Tiger Tattoos

Chinese and Japanese tiger art designs are very popular tattoo designs. Generally speaking, tiger tattoos can be found in virtually every country in Asia and have been for many centuries. However, Japanese tiger tattoos (i.e. tattoos with Japanese tiger designs) are the most popular and prevalent of all the tiger tattoos.

Tattooing in Japan has a very complex history that would take a very long time to explain on this lens. The popularity of Japanese tiger tattoos in particular stem from the tiger paintings described above. The tattoos drew inspiration from the Chinese and Japanese tiger paintings described above. However, it wasn’t until toward the end of the Edo period that tattooing became popular in Japan. The tattoo designs that have become famous over the years were widely influenced by the Ukiyo-e (traditional Japanese woodblock art) prints of the time. Another source of inspiration were the Chinese tiger paintings of the time. After seeing these elaborate paintings, many people – Japanese and non-Japanese alike – were inspired to have tattoos of these drawings drawn on their bodies.

During the 17th century or so, tattooing in Japan became both taboo and forbidden by law due to the popularity of Chinese culture in Japan and the popularity of tattoos among the underclass and the Yakuza mafia syndicates. Laws prohibiting tattoos in Japan were lifted after 1945, but this taboo still exists up to the present day. Despite this traditional taboo, a growing number of young people in Japan are becoming more and more open-minded about tattoos and getting some of their own.

The tiger in the tattoos often represent power and dominance. A resting tiger may represent dominance whereas an attacking tiger may represent power and aggression. This symbolism has made the tiger tattoos very popular in Asia over the centuries.

In Conclusion

Tiger have been a part of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures for almost as long as they’ve been in existence. They’ve been in the artwork of these countries for many thousands of years and hopefully will remain in their artwork for many more centuries to come!

Thank you for stopping by and please come back! I will update this lens when time permits. Please remember to check in again for any new updates!

All images copyright: Wikimedia Commons.

Tiger Art Link List

You can read more about Asian tiger art and art from Asia in general at the sites below:

Japanese Tiger Art
Interested in tiger paintings from Japan? Be informed about the various mediums in which the Japanese have produced Japanese tiger art.

Tiger in Chinese culture – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikipedia entry about the tiger in Chinese culture.

Chinese Tiger Art
The tiger has been a potent symbol in Chinese art throughout the history of the nation. The animal is one of the twelve characters of the zodiac calendar. As such the tiger is considered to have an authoritative personality that is considered to be t

About Korean Paintings
Another resource for Korean art that’s very in-depth and reliable.

Japanese Tiger Statue – The Old Tokaido
Blog entry about Japanese tiger statues.

Korean Focus eBulletin: White Tiger to Roar Loud and Proud in 2010
Very fascinating and in-depth article about the tiger in Korea and its place in Korean beliefs, culture, and society.

Japanese tattoos – what do they mean? Japanese Tattoos Designs & Symbols – Japanese tattoo meanings
Japanese tattoos – what do they mean? Tattoo Designs & Symbols – Japanese tattoo meanings

Japanese Tiger Tattoos
Interested in a tiger tattoo from Japan? Discover the age old traditions associated with Japanese tiger tattoos.

Tigers in Japanese Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum
Article about Japanese tiger art and the artists who painted them.

The Beautiful Oriental Art of Koson Ohara
Very comprehensive site about Koson Ohara. Featured on this site are a biography and many of his paintings.

The Asian History Blog
A new blog from yours truly pertaining to the history of Asia.

From the Same Author
While you’re at it, I would appreciate it very much if you would check out some of my other lenses related to Asian culture! All feedback on these is greatly appreciated.

Playwright Zoo

Playwright Zoo

Zoo playwriting?

A resource linking you to some of the coolest new trends as well as classics particular to playwrights and their craft. — And check out the Playwright Zoo Archive for past musings and featured artists.

Polar Bears

The coolest.
Michael R. McGuire is one of the playwrights whose opinion I trust. He’s a theater artist working within his community as a major contributor to the local arts scene in New London, Connecticut. He is a self-taught self-starter who also helps other theater-artists see their work produced. I’ve know Mike for a few decades, and we’ve worked together to co-produce new-play festivals and full-up productions. He founded a playwrights group that meets regularly throughout the year where members bring new work to have it read and discussed (then we all go out for food and beer). He’s the kind of guy you want to have around when you’re trying to get a new piece on its feet. Everybody should have a friend like Mike.

Michael R. McGuire has written plays for the past 16 years. His play SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE I MISSED THE TRAIN was part of The Lark’s 2004 Playwrights Week and showcased by The Planning Stage at The Golden Street Gallery in 2006. He was awarded a CT Artist Fellowship in 2005 for his play THE NEW GIRL with which he produced a showcase at the Avery Point Playhouse. His plays PERSEPHONE RULES! and THE MISJUDGMENT OF OENONE are published by Brooklyn Publishers.

McGuire founded the playwrights reading group Writers’ Roundtable in 2000.

The interview:

Michael R. McGuire – why the “R”?

There is another playwright in America named Michael McGuire. We were getting one another’s rejection letters returned. The other McGuire has been around longer so I added my middle initial. Plus, it sounds cooler.

You’re a playwright based in Southeastern Connecticut. What are some of the challenges to you as a playwright not being in a big city?

The biggest challenge is the lack of opportunity to network with theater professionals. Literary managers have no face to put with my name. Of course this might also be an advantage…

What are the benefits?

I enjoy being an outsider. Because so many playwrights live in NY, they tend to have a New York sensibility. My New London, CT sensibility is a bit different and informs my writing.

Living in a small arts community like New London County, how essential to you and your work has been the acquisition of production skills?

I have produced, directed and also acted in many of my own productions. It is essential for a playwright to see the work in front of an audience. If opportunities do not present themselves, you must create them.

What makes you want to produce the works of others as well as your own?

I sometimes come across a script that I simply must see on stage. Your play TO DIE FOR WANT OF LOBSTER was one of these. (That it had a great role for me had nothing to do with it)

I do not consider myself an especially skilled director of the works of others and prefer to leave that to others when I can.

Being outside of the mainstream loops and circles that life in New York or another theater hub could offer, how do you get your work out there? Do you have a marketing plan? If so, how does it work?

I wouldn’t call it a plan so much as a dogged tenacity to submit my work to every theater I can find that might be appropriate. In addition to Dramatists Sourcebook, I also search online and scour the resumes of playwrights I admire for theaters they began in.

I keep a database of all my submissions and mail frequently. How does it work? I’m not so sure it does!

While the stereotype of the struggling playwright places him/her in a room, alone, flushing out genius across pages, waiting for discovery – how does it really work from your experience? Are you alone or do you depend on others?

I write in coffee shops. I need a bit of hubbub to write. Silence is deadly to me. I read a great deal and consider all writing as part of a larger conversation. Nothing is created in a vacuum. Our playwrights group Writers’ Roundtable has been a valuable resource for feedback and inspiration.

How did you find other artists in your small-town community to work on your plays?

Mine is a theater-heavy small-town due, in part, to our proximity to The O’Neill. New London has an artistically thriving if financially struggling community. I am also fortunate to have an actress girlfriend, Heidi Harger, who has inspired imagery for more than one of my plays.

What resources are do you use to expand your knowledge of writing? What’s available when you’re off the beaten path?
Given everything that is available elsewhere is available here. The works of Gary Garrison, Jeffery Sweet and Stuart Spenser have been valuable, especially early on. Reading the works of current playwrights has also been important. I have to travel a bit to see professional theater, but every playwright should watch live theater.

You recently participated in a 24-hour play experiment, which was the first of it’s kind in the New London area – what was that like? What was unexpected?

We were given an assignment in the evening and had to have a 10 page play written by morning. The plays were handed off to randomly selected actors and director who rehearsed and had the play before an audience that night. It was fun for me because I didn’t have to direct it myself, a rare treat.

Unexpectedly my director, unknown to me before the project, is interested in an on-going collaboration on future plays.

You’ve also participated in the now defunct Local Playwrights Festival at the O’Neill Theater Center, which was produced and performed by all Connecticut and Rhode Island based volunteers to present workshops of plays by local authors – how relevant was that earlier experience for you?

Having an early play (WHAT’S GONNA SET YOU FREE?) selected for that festival was the encouragement I needed at that time to let me know I might be in the right business. It also introduced me to other playwrights and the local theater community at large. It is impossible to overstate the importance of that event. You may blame them for all my subsequent scribbling.

Any plans for the short play that came out of that?

I’m not much of a short play writer in general, but I may send it out here and there.

What are some recommend reads for playwrights?

I mentioned some writers above, and of course read any play you can get your hands on, but also read magazines, novels, comic books, essays and everything else. Ideas are everywhere. I could live ten lifetimes and not run out of ideas.

What do you recommend a playwright order from the bar when being taken out after a showing of one of his/her plays?

If the show went well, have a Guiness or two. Remain sober enough to absorb the praise. If the show went poorly, start pounding whiskey. I accept no responsibility for anyone who follows this advice.

Anything else?

Learn the rules and then break them with style.

The Monkey House

Musings on the state of theater-arts

A Playwright & Web Forums: How to Use Them for the POWER OF GOOD
(your good & others)
from the mind of Kato McNickle

There are a lot of playwright specific forums, groups on Facebook or MySpace, and other web-based cyber-groups floating around. One thing I’ve noticed from participating in these forums and groups is that about 1 outta 50 playwrights actually knows how to interface, interact, and maximize the potential of these virtual porticoes. How savvy are you when it comes to participation thru posting? Are you that one or the other 50?

If that forum your a member of was a theater — what would you do with it? Would you really only tap on the mike once our twice, see if it was on, and only leave a brief calling card — or would you do more? Can you do something more memorable, more lasting, more significant with your stage-time?

I think sites such as these are like stage-time. How can you do more than leave a calling card? How can you use this forum to make a statement — to leave an impression? From impressions come connections. The connections are what we seeks as artists.

Visit the Playwright Zoo Archive.

Creative Creatures

Workshops for the writer @ Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

Writing as a spiritual practice, a creative path, or as a way to re-vision your life story helps you access the thoughts behind your thoughts and experience a new intimacy with yourself. Writing helps us make friends with our inner critic, freeing us to create and express without inhibition.

Kripalu provides a welcoming environment in which to turn inward toward the words that are calling you-and offers you a variety of skilled teachers to guide you on the next step of your writing journey.

FastLinks to theaters

These theaters accept unsolicited plays

Actors Theatre of Louisville
Louisville, KY. National 10-minute play contest.

Act II Playhouse
Ambler, PA. Full length plays, musicals, and solo pieces.

African Continuum Theatre
Washington, DC. Multicultural work relevant to African-American community.

Alabama Shakespeare Festival
Montgomery, AL. Plays from Southern writers with Southern or African-American themes.

Amas Musical Theatre, Inc.
NYC. Multicultural casts and themes.

ART Station
Stone Mountain, GA. Full-length plays, musicals, solo pieces that describe Southern experience.

Asian American Theatre Company
San Francisco, CA. Innovative rendrings about the Asian American experience.

Bristol River Theatre
Bristol, PA Cutting-edge works, plays that experiment with form.

Celebration Theatre
West Hollywood, CA. Plays not previously produced that provide a prgressive gay and lesbian voice in contemporary theatre.

Centre Stage-South Carolina
Greenville, SC. Full-length, unproduced plays.

City Theatre
Miami, FL. One acts only that represent a diverse mix of subjects and themes.

Columbus Children’s Theatre
Columbus, OH. Social issue one-acts acceptable for audiences in grades K-5.

Dad’s Garage
Atlanta, GA. Full-length nontraditional plays, comedies.

Detroit Repertory Theatre
Detroit, MI. Full-length issue oriented plays.

East West Players
Los Angeles, CA. Plays by or about the Asian American experience.

El Centro Su Teatro
Bilingual and/or Spanish language plays, plays dealing with the Chicano/Latino cultural asthetic or political experience.

Express Children’s Theatre
Houston, TX. Plays for young audiences.

5th Avenue Theatre
Seattle, WA. Adventure Musical Theatre: ongoing program that commissions original musicals performed for K-6 students.

Foothill Theatre
Nevada City, CA. Seeks full-length plays. New Voices of the Wild West: annual spring series of plays about the rural American West.

Growing Stage Theatre
Netcong, NJ. Accepts plays with a production history suitable for family audiences.

Hangar Theatre
Ithaca, NY. Accepts one-acts for for young audiences only.

Huntington Theatre
Boston, MA. Accepts plays from Boston area playwrights only; agent submission all others.

Jewish Theatre of the South
Atlanta, GA. Works on Jewish themes.

Jobsite Theater
Tampa, FL. Topical, politically and socially relevant theatre; plays appealing to 20- and 30- somethnings.

Kitchen Dog Theater Company
Dallas, TX. Plays from Texas and Southwest playwrights.

Kuma Kahua Theatre
Honolulu, HI. Plays set in Hawaii or dealing with Hawaiian experience.

Merry-Go-Round Playhouse
Auburn, NY. Plays for young audiences.

Mill Mountain Theatre
Roanoke, VA. Accepts unsolicited one-acts for CenterPieces reding series only.

Miracle Theatre Group
Portland, OR. Hispanic playwrights, plays that deal with the Hispanic experience.

Mu Performing Arts
Minneapolis, MN. Asian-American expeience, plays combining traditional Asian performance with Western theatre styles, short plays suitable for school tours.

New Georges
NYC. plays by women only, works with vigorous use of language and heightened perspectives on reality.

New Jersey Repertory Company
Long Branch, NJ. Work not produced professionally, social or humanistic themes.

A Noise Within
Glendale, CA. Translations or adaptations of classical material only.

Oldcastle Theatre Company
Bennington, VT. Accepts musicals and plays.

OpenStage Theatre & Company
Fort Collins, CO. Accepts full-length plays.

Oregon Children’s Theatre
Portland, OR. Plays and musicals for young and family audiences.

Playhouse on the Square
Memphis, TN. Full-length plays and musicals.

Playwrights Horizons
NYC. American writers only, works with strong sense of language that take theatrical risks.

Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago
Chicago, IL. Full-length and one-act musicals.

Sanctuary: Playwrights Theatre
Brooklyn, NY. Accepts playwrights with at least one professional production only; prefers plays with unusul structure, radical core ideas, epic form, work that’s off the map or otherwise seen as impractical.

Seattle Children’s Theatre
Seattle, WA. Accepts unsolicted plays for Drama Summer School season only: one-act plays suitable for young actors.

Lawrence, KS. Plays for young audiences.

Soho Repertory Theatre
NYC. Accepts unsolicited scripts for Writer/Director Lab only, deadline: May.

TADA! Youth Theater
NYC. Plays for young audiences.

Thalia Spanish Theatre
Sunnyside, NY. Plays with Hispanic themes.

Theater by he Blind
NYC. Works by and about being blind.

Theater for the New City
NYC. Experimental American works; plays with poetry, music, and dance; social issues.

Trustus Theatre
Columbia, SC. One-acts for late night series – 45-75 minutes in length. No topic or experimental structure is taboo.

Two Chairs Theater Company
Grand Junction, CO. Full-length, one-acts, 10-minute plays. Annual short play fest, deadline Jan. 31.

Unicorn Theatre
Kansas City. MO. Full-length contemporay social issues.

Victory Gardens Theater
Chicago, IL. Accepts plays from Chicago residents only. All others submit 10-page sample and letter of inquiry.

VS Theatre Company
Los Angeles, CA. Accepts unique and edgy full-length unproduced plays with submission form.

West Coast Ensemble
Los Angeles, CA. Plays not previously produced in Southern California.

Wings Theatre Company, Inc.
NYC. Gay themed musicals and plays only.

The York Theatre Company
NYC. Small cast musicals.