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Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal


Volume 4: No. 2, April 2007

About This Image

Cover of the April 2007 issue

Sumi-e, meaning “black ink painting,” is a Japanese form of East Asian ink and wash painting. Wash painting originated in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), and Zen Buddhist monks introduced the form in Japan in the mid-14th century (1). Sumi-e uses simple materials — the same black ink and fine-point brushes as calligraphy, paper, and water — but the form requires great technical skill and training. Once a stroke is made it cannot be altered. Preparation of the materials is a form of spiritual meditation. Traditional ink is molded and fired into an ink stick, and the artist grinds the stick in water against a slate stone, a rhythmic motion that clears and prepares the mind for composition.

Generally, sumi-e paintings depict natural objects rather than human subjects, and empty space in the painting is a common feature, suggesting both timelessness and mutability according to Zen Buddhist traditions. The paintings are often marked with the artist’s stamp and commonly include a word, such as the word “beauty” shown here, or a poem that complements the painting’s message. Sumi-e and other forms of wash paintings do not seek to represent subjects in a realistic way but rather to express the essential characteristics of a subject, giving the artist creative freedom in expressing the natural world. This image is partially based on the creation myth of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, which depicts the world resting on the backbone of a giant fish. This issue on international health celebrates the diversity of human expression in various cultures, the technical skill and training of public health professionals, and the beauty and elegance of their efforts. Just as the Ainu’s fish provides a place for the world to rest, the skills and efforts of public health professionals provide a structure of support that unifies our commitment to global health.


  1. Ink and wash painting. New York: Answers Corporation [cited 01 Mar 2007]. Available from:*.

Cover artist: Kristen Immoor
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The opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.


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