YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: Twenty-four Accomplishments of Imperial Japan, 1881

Hitsu no Saisho Finds his Father in China
Hitsu no Saisho Finds his Father in China
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In late 6th - early 7th centuries, Japan sent several embassies to China to bring back religious and secular learning. The tale is that Karu no Daijin was in one of these. For reasons that remain obscure, he was arrested and condemned to serve as a candlestick where all could see him. After many years, his son, Hitsu no Saisho Haruhira, went in search of him, and, in 656, found and brought him home.

There appears to be no historical basis for the story -- unlike most in this series. The period was an unsettled one in Sino-Japanese relations, with the new Tang dynasty supporting the kingdom of Silla in unifying Korea. Yamato was forced to pull out of Korea and there was fear of invasion. Prince Karu ruled for part of the period as Emperor Kotoku(597-654, r. 645-654). It is, however, a striking work, more in its treatment of the mad prisoner than his expressionless son.

Kibi Daijin Seated at a Chinese Table
Kibi Daijin Seated at a Chinese Table
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Grand Master Kibi (695 - 775) is creditted with bringing Japan the game of Go, the art of embroidery, the Chinese lute, and the Chinese calendar.

Kibi was a minor noble who won favor at Nara. At twenty-two, he was sent to China to bring back T'ang culture. This was the mission which included Abe no Nakamaro, treated by Yoshitoshi in 100 Views of the Moon. Kibi spent nineteen years there, where he seems to have been a Court favourite, and later returned as Vice Ambassador.

Kibi's first trip is the subject of a popular kabuki play. The story is that Emperor Hsuan-tsung wished to test Kibi's intelligence, and invited him to play Go with a Minister of the Court. Kibi did not know the game, but bet his life against the chance to learn the secrets of the calendar. Aided by the ghost of Abe no Nakamaro, Kibi was on the verge of a one-stone victory when the Minister's wife swallowed a stone to save her husband the shame of defeat. When the ruse was discovered, the enraged husband ordered his wife to be executed, but Kibi begged the Emperor to pardon her. She later repaid him by warning him of a plot against his life, and helping him get safely back to Japan. Most ukiyo-é show the kabuki scene, ghost and all, but Yoshitoshi has chosen to depict Kibi quietly studying the Go board, a more likely scenario.

Wake-no-Kiyomaru Receiving the Oracles from the Deity at the Usa Hachiman Shrine
Wake-no-Kiyomaru Receiving the Oracles from the
Deity at the Usa Hachiman Shrine
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Wake no Kiyomaro (733-799) served three Emperors, and is remembered as a model of honesty, sobriety and loyalty. This print depicts his big moment in Japanese history.

In 761, the retired Empress Koken (later Shotoku) fell under the spell of the monk Yuge-no-Dokyo, who came to dominate the court. In 769, Dokyo claimed that an oracle at the Usa Hachiman Shrine in Kyushu prophesied peace in the realm if he were made emperor. The Empress, perhaps a little suspicious, sent Kiyomaro to the shrine to confirm the god's will. Kiyomaro returned with another oracle, which clearly stated that no commoner could sit on the throne, and that troublemakers should be banished.

The priest took revenge on Kiyomaro by cutting his Achilles tendons and exiling him to Kyushu, but Dokyo's power died with the Empress the next year, and he was banished to Shimotsuke. Kiyomaru, miraculously healed at the same Hachiman shrine, was recalled, and served as senior advisor the the Emperors Kounin and Kanmu.

Chujo-hime and the Spirit of her Wicked Stepmother
Chujo-hime and the Spirit of her 
Wicked Stepmother
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Princess Chujo-hime (753-781), daughter of Fujiwara Toyonari (some place her a century earlier, as the daughter of Fujiwara Toyoshige), was a nun, later believed to be an incarnation of the goddess Kannon. Her mother died when Chujo-hime was three, and she said to have transcribed one thousand scrolls of Buddhist sutras in order to achieving her mother's posthumous salvation. Accordingly, her stepmother grew jealous of the girl's devotion to her mother, and abused her to near death, before Chujo-hime was rescued by the nunnery at Taimadera.

As a nun, she is said to have invented the art of embroidery -- the same art, please note, that Kibi Daijin is said to have brought back from China -- and, more likely, to have woven the famous Lotus Thread mandala, depicting the flowers of Paradise, which can still be seen at the temple at Taimadera. The lotuses in the print are a reference to this accomplishment, which every Japanese of the time would have recognised. Yoshitoshi included Chujo-hime in his tiptych A Mirror of Famous Women of Japan.

Sugawara no Michizane Invoking the Thunder
Sugawara no Michizane Invoking the Thunder
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Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), a Heian scholar, historian and poet, rose rapidly to achieve the post of Minister of the Right in 899. It is said that the Emperor wished to make him an envoy to China, but Sugawara, not wishing to go, argued that it was more important to build Japanese culture than imitate China, bringing the tradition of scholars' visits to China to an end.

In 901, a rival, Fujiwara Tokihira, accused Sugawara of treason, and persuaded Emperor Daigo to demote him to Administrative Head of Daizaifu in Kyushu, an effective exile. Michizane was angry and bitter, but died without rehabilitation or revenge. Upon his death, a series of disasters and epidemics which were attributed to his angry ghost struck the capital and the court. To propitiate him, a shrine was built where he was worshipped as the god Tenman Tenjin.

Tenjin was originally an agricultural thunder god, and Sugawara is shown here in exile, invoking thunder against his enemies in Kyoto. Today, less emphasis is placed on this aspect of his power: he is revered as a patron of study, poetry, calligraphy, and the performing arts.

Karukaya Doshin Refuses to Recognise Ishidomaru
Karukaya Doshin Refuses to Recognise Ishidomaru
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The daimyo Kato Sayemon Shige-uji fled to Mount Koya to escape a jealous wife, becoming the hermit priest Karukaya Doshin. His wife searched relentlessly, until one day she and her son came to the hermitage where he was hiding. The boy, Ishidomaru, recognised his father by a birthmark, but the priest, resolved to remain true to his vows, denied it and bade the boy go home. Ishidomaru agreed to go, and promised to keep the truth from his mother, so that his father could remain in peace.

The modified story referred to here is scene in a kabuki play by Namiki Sosuke(1694-1750), called Karukaya Doshin Tsukushi no Iyezuto. Yoshitoshi does not treat it like a traditional kabuki print, but emphasises the human emotions involved -- the boy's need for a father, and Karukaya's repressed love and longing for his son.

Tokiwa Gozen and her Husband, Minamoto Yoshitomo
Tokiwa Gozen and her Husband, Minamoto Yoshitomo
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Tokiwa-gozen rose to prominence by winning a beauty contest against 1,000 competitors. In the capital, she became concubine, then the second wife, of Minamoto Yoshitomo (1123-1160), whom she bore three sons. In 1160, Yoshitomo was killed Taira Kiyomori. Tokiwa-gozen fled with her sons and stepson, Yoritomo, but Kiyomori took her mother hostage, forcing her to return. She became Kiyomori's lover in exchange of the safety of her children, and even gave him a daughter. Eventually he tired of her and gave her to a client to marry.

Tokiwa-gozen is traditionally portrayed sheltering her children under her robe, and Yoshitoshi later did the traditional Portrayal in A Mirror of Famous Women of Japan Here, he concentrates on the marriage, with Tokiwa-gozen centre stage, and the normally dominant Yoshitomo treated almost as a supplicant. Note, in the larger images, the hint of shaven eyebrows, under the painted in moth eyebrows, the height of fashion for women of the time.

Kesa Gozen
Kesa Gozen
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Kesa Gozen was the victim of a stalker, Endo Musha Morito, who is portrayed, questionably, to my mind, in Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors hiding outside her bedroom door. She rejected his advances, but became afraid he would harm her husband. To prevent this, she urged Endo to murder her husband on a certain night, then cut off her hair and took his place in the darkened bedroom. Endo carried out the assignment, only to discover he had murdered the object of his obsession.

This print shows Kesa writing her farewell poem, her hair shorn and draped across the writing desk, glancing anxiously over her shoulder, perhaps at the sound of Endo's approach.


Ohatsu Cleaning her Sword with the Zori
Ohatsu Cleaning her Sword with the Zori
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This scene is from the kabuki play Kagamiyama Kokyo no Nishiki-e. In it, the domineering senior lady-in-waiting, Iwafuji, plots the downfall of Onoe, a junior lady of commoner background. She substitutes a zori (sandal) for a precious statue that is Onoe's keeping, then asks to see the statue. Iwafuji publically beats Onoe with the sandal for losing the statue. Humiliated, Onoe decides to commit suicide. She sends her loyal maid, Ohatsu, off with a letter in a box, but the box falls, and Ohatsu finds a suicide note and the zori. Too late to save her mistress, Ohatsu confronts Iwafuji in the garden, and kills her. She is shown, here, cleaning her sword with the zori. The Clan leader rewards Ohatsu's loyalty by giving her Onoe's name and position in court.

Aside from the superb composition of this piece, I like the depiction of Ohatsu, a dowdy, middle-aged woman, sharp featured and thick ankled, as real as the woman sitting next to you on the bus.

Sato Shirobyoe Tadanobu Leaping from a Snowy Roof in Yoshino
Sato Shirobyoe Tadanobu
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Sato Shirobyoe Tadanobu (1160?-1185) was one of Minamoto no Yoshitsune's bodyguards. When his lord's military successes provoked the jealousy of his half-brother, Minamoto no Yoritomo, Yoshitsune and a small group fled for their lives. To avoid the capital, where they would have been recognised, they went through the mountains of Yoshino. There, they were attacked by a band of warrior monks from a local temple. To deceive the enemy, Tadanobu took Yoshitsune's armor and sword, and lead a small band in a delaying action until the others could escape through the snow. As his companions died around him, Tadanobu expected to be killed, but, after a number of outstanding fights, he escaped.

Badly wounded, Tadanobu hid with his mistress in Kyoto, but she betrayed him, and again he had to flee. Yoritomo's men found him the next day, and, after a long and bloody fight, Tadanobu committed seppuku on a balcony within sight of the enemy.

The Mountain Priest Helps Hino Kumawakamaru Escape Sadogajima
The Mountain Priest Helps Hino Kumawakamaru
 Escape Sadogajima
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Hino Kumawakamaru was the young son of an advisor and supporter of Emperor Go-Daigo in his struggle against the Shogunate (see below). Pardoned once, Hino's father was caught in a second conspiracy and exiled to Sado Island, where he was executed in 1332.

The Taiheiki says that Hino, at eleven, travelled to Sado to see his father before his execution, but was imprisoned himself. Determined to avenge his father's death, he escaped one night and killed the man who had performed the beheading with the sword that had been used. He decided to serve the Emperor in his father's place, and got away by leaping the castle moat using a bamboo tree, then won the support of a mountain priest who force a fishing boat to return to shore by using a miraculous prayer, and got Hino away over the sea.

I have not so far determined what happened to Hino thereafter.

Nawa-no-Nagashige Helping Go-Daigo Escape from Oki to His Castle, Funanoe-san
Nawa-no-Nagashige Helping Go-Daigo Escape
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Emperor Go-Daigo became a historical model for the Meiji Restoration for his unsuccessful attempt, in the 14th century, to wrest power from the Hojo clan and restore Imperial government.

In 1331, the Hojo had exiled Go-Daigo to Oki Island for his rebellion, but his partisans fought on, and in 1333 the tide turned. Assisted by a sympathetic guard, Go-Daigo escaped Oki in a fishing boat, landing near the castle of Funanoe. The lord, Nawa-no-Nagashige, on hearing that the Emperor had landed, rushed to aid him. As there was no litter in which to carry Go-Daigo, who was completely unused to walking, Nagashige covered his armour with straw matting, and carried him on his back.

The Emperor descended triumphantly on Kyoto, where he proceeded to institute thoroughgoing reforms that alienated many of his major supporters, the most important of whom rebelled and replaced Go-Daigo with a more malleable Emperor. Go-Daigo set up an alternate capital which came to be known as the Southern Court, which lasted until 1392.

Kusunoki Masatsura Rescuing Ben-no-naishi
Kusunoki Masatsura Rescuing Ben-no-naishi
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Kusunoki Masatsura (1326-1348) is one of those beautiful losers so admired in samurai culture. The son of Kusunoki Masashige (1294 - 1336), he maintained his clan's support of the Southern Emperor, becoming the military mainstay of the breakaway Imperial line, until 4 February 1348, when he was killed at the Battle of Shijo Nawate. Like his father, he apparently foresaw his death, carving a final poem in the door at the Nyoirin temple, which can still be read today:
I presume I could not return
So I will inscribe my name
Among those who died by the bow.

Naturally, once he was dead, Masatsura became the focus of romantic tales of loyalty and bravery, including this one, wherein he defends a court lady -- Naishi is a title rather than a name -- and spirits her away from attacking enemies. The scene appears in both written works and kabuki dramas.

Governor Hideyoshi Cuts a Melon
Governor Hideyoshi Cuts a Melon
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Hideyoshi (1536? - 1598), at this point governor of Chikuzen, is on the trail of Akechi Mitsuhide, who has killed Oda Nobunaga. Shortly before the battle of Yamazaki, in which Hideyoshi avenged Nobunaga's death, a peasant brought his regiment the harvest of melons that had grown on lands received from Nobunaga. The story is that Hideyoshi cut one melon into pieces, promising the same fate to the traitor Akechi Mitsuhide and his supporters. Kuniyoshi had done a very similar print of the same scene, which Yoshitoshi has followed closely.

Osono Attacking Keyamura Rokusuke
Osono Attacking Keyamura Rokusuke
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Another kabuki tale: Keyamura Rokusuke is a retainer of Hideyoshi, a sword master who lives simply in the country. One day, he comes upon a lost child, takes him home and cares for him (note Rokusuke protecting the child, in a sling under his clothing). He hangs the boy's kimono outside his house, so the boy's relatives will see it and find him.

One day, a woman named Osono bursts in and attacks him. Osono is the boy's aunt, and, in one of those co-incidences so beloved of playwrights, the daughter of Keyamura's teacher, to whom he had been affianced before her father's murder. She is searching for the murderer. Of course, Keyamura agrees to assist in the vendetta, and, eventually, bloody vengeance is had.

Kato Kiyomasa at the Fall of Fushimi Castle
Kato Kiyomasa at the Fall of Fushimi Castle
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Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611), also shown in Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors was a Toyotomi supporter until rivalry with Ishida Mitsunari, Regent for Hideyoshi's heir, lead him to the Tokugawa side.

Kato fought beside Ishida in 1600, beseiging Fushimi. Determined to give Tokugawa Ieyasu time to muster his army, the defenders held out for ten days, long enough to let Ieyasu get into a favourable position. Yoshitoshi shows Kato looking back thoughtfully at the castle ruins. As author of a handbook for samurai, he was bound to admire the loyalty and sacrifice of the defenders.

Whether it was admiration for Tokugawa loyalists, anger at Ishida, or the money, Kato was with the Tokugawa at Sekigahara when Ishida was completely defeated, clearing the way for the Tokugawa shogunate. Kato gained significant funds and became governor of Higo. Despite that, he worked for the survival of the Toyotomi, and, in 1611, organised a meeting between Ieyasu and Hideyori. However, in 1615, the Tokugawa eliminated the remaining Toyotomi.

A Tengu Helps Tamiya Botaro Munechika Avenge His Father's Death
A Tengu Helps Tamiya Botaro Munechika Avenge His Father's Death
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Tamiya Botaro is the hero of Osanago no adauchi(A Child's Revenge), a kabuki play based on a seventeenth century incident. His father was murdered in 1624, and Botaro swore revenge. He learned swordsmanship and, at seventeen, took on the fencing master and killed him. Yoshitoshi included another treatment of Botaro's story in his series A New Series of Eastern Brocades.

Having recently read The Tale of the Heike (Helen McCullough's excellent translation), I am reminded that the average samurai was a seasoned fighter by eighteen, if he lived that long. While I admire this composition tremendously, I am less impressed by the revenge ethic that Yoshitoshi holds up as an ideal...

The Loyal Masaoka, Wet Nurse to the Date Clan
The Loyal Masaoka, Wet Nurse to the Date Clan
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Based on a scene from Masaoka in Meiboku sendai hagi, which is, in turn, based on an event from the 1660s.

The titular head of the Daté clan was a young child, vulnerable to assassination. His nurse, to protect him, kept him in the women's quarters, prepared his food with her own hand, and taught her own son to taste all his lord's food, in an attempt to avert poisoning. However, enemies arrange to have a high-ranking woman deliver a box of poisoned candy. Masaoka's son dashes forward and eats a candy.

What happened next depends on what story one accepts. In the play, the visitor stabs the boy as a punishment for rudeness and, not incidentally, to prevent it being clear he had been poisoned. In other versions, he dies of the poison. In either case, Masaoka feigns indifference to the death, convincing the conspirators that this must be the young lord -- who could be indifferent to the death of her own son? -- and that Masaoka is in sympathy with their cause. Only when she is alone does Masaoka give vent to her grief, in one of the most moving scenes in all kabuki.

Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, Chief of the Forty-seven Ronin, Leading the Attack on Yoshinaka’s Mansion
Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio Leading the Attack Yoshinaka’s Mansion
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The tale of the Forty-seven Ronin is called the Iliad of Japan, for its importance within Japanese culture, and for the insight it gives into Japanese values.

In 1701, two daimyo in Edo, Asano Naganori and Kamei Sama, were ordered to arrange a reception for the Emperor's envoys. Kira Yoshinaka was to teach them court etiquette, but became angry, allegedly because of the small bribes they offered, and did not. Kamei came up with the necessary bribe, but Asano did not. Kira publically taunted and humiliated Asano until he lost his temper, and attacked Kira. To attack an official was a grave offense: Asano was ordered to commit seppuku, his goods and lands were confiscated, his family ruined, and his retainers made ronin, masterless samurai.

Forty-seven retainers lead by Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, swore to avenge their master, though revenge was a capital offence in such cases. To allay Kira's suspicions, they waited over a year, Oishi pretending to become a drunkard. They secretly assembled weapons, and, on the night of December 14-15,1702, attacked Kira's mansion during a blizzard. Kira tried unsuccessfully to hide: offerred the chance of an honourable suicide, he was too terrified to respond. Finally, Oishi killed him, and cut off his head. One ronin was sent to inform the family that revenge had been carried out, the rest took the head to their lord's grave, then turned themselves in. They were duly sentenced to death, but allowed to commit suicide instead of being executed as criminals. Forty-six ronin committed seppuku on February 4, 1703 and were buried in front of Asano's tomb. The forty-seventh returned from his mission and surrendered, but was pardoned.

Though this story is primarily about loyalty, the ronin hoped to recover the Asano's position, and make it possible for his samurai to find jobs. The murder of Kira cleared the Asano name, the eldest son was given part of his father's territory, and the remaining men were again able to find employment.

 

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