Like the Chinese practice of taking inked rubbings from monument inscriptions, which probably served as the seed from which gyotaku developed, Zen also has its roots in China. Zen originated in China as Chan Buddhism, strongly influenced by a Taoist perspective. Chan was introduced to Japan over a thousand years ago. Since that introduction, Japanese cultural practices and beliefs have added to the core of the Chan philosophical and spiritual perspective, thereby creating Zen Buddhism. In the book The Tao of Zen, author Ray Grigg presents the relationships and connections between Zen and Tao with exceptional grace and clarity.
Zen and Taoist perspectives have contributed to artistic expression in both Japanese and Chinese culture. One of the favorite subjects of Zen and Taoist artwork is the beauty of nature. Although painting and calligraphy usually come to mind when one hears the description “Zen artwork,” gyotaku also exemplifies the directness, simplicity, and spontaneity of Zen artistic expression. What could be more direct, simple, spontaneous, and indeed, non-dualistic, than the art subject itself (a fish) serving as the medium by which ink is applied to paper! Fish becomes art and art becomes fish!