The He-Gassen scroll of Edo period Japan depicts an epic battle… of farts.
He-Gassen is a Japanese art scroll painted (probably) about a hundred and seventy years ago. In it, a troop of enthusiastic flatulists engage in a series of battles with extremely noxious, powerful, and dangerous farts.
You can view the whole scroll in the link below, if you’d like. It begins with some men eating a lot of gas-inducing food (on Wikipedia this is identified as taro) and then launching into a barrage of directed farts. They blast people and horses – or blast people from horseback:
They trap their farts in a bag and then releasing them as a major onslaught:
In some panels the farts levitate cats or punch through wooden panels. In others the farts are deflected by well-timed fans. Everyone has a big grin on their face except when they’re on the wrong side of an attack. The whole battle is raucous, vulgar, and delightful.
I have been meaning to write about the He-Gassen scroll for a very long time. I’ve held off until now because it has been very difficult to track down any authoritative sources about it. The scroll first came to Western attention in a Daily Mail article back in 2012, but its tantalizing claims – that the scroll is a social commentary on Edo-era xenophobia – had no sources or outside support.
An excellent comment on the Ask Historians subreddit (link below) calls BS on that claim, and indeed on any attempt to layer a deeper meaning onto this scroll. The meaning, as far as we know, is clear: farts are funny, and this scroll is funny. There are historical antecedents for the He-Gassen scroll going back hundreds of years, enough to consider this a minor tradition in Japanese art.