Gyotaku (ghee-yo-tah-koo), means fish print in Japanese. gyo means fish, and taku means print, rubbing, or impression.
The legend tells of a Japanese emperor who went fishing and caught a big red snapper. The emperor was ecstatic, but this big catch presented him with a big problem. Red snapper was the emperor's favorite food to eat, but the fish was so large that he thought he must permanently display the fish in the palace. After much thought, he arrived at the perfect solution. He ordered his servants to paint the fish with ink and then press it on paper to create an impression. He then ordered them to clean the fish and prepare it for a feast at the palace. That night, the emperor and his court enjoyed a fabulous red snapper dinner, while marveling at the beautiful rubbing of the great fish that was now hanging in the imperial dining hall. Who says you can't keep your fish and eat it too!
Fish rubbing has been performed by Japanese fishermen ever since. Eventually the technique spread to America in 1952 when a Japanese ichthyologist (fish scientist), Yoshio Hiyama, shared his fish rubbings with American scientists. He presented them as scientific illustrations of Japanese fish species. A good fish rubbing is probably the most accurate image, in every detail, of a fish's external features.
Beyond recording a record catch, or scientific illustration, fish rubbing has developed into a fine art form. Many artists are rubbing fish today. Fish rubbings have broad aesthetic appeal and can be very beautiful.