YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors, 1883-1887

Yoshitoshi did a number of Warriors series, and it is not always easy for the amateur to tell one from the other, unless one is fluent in Japanese and acquainted with the ways of printmakers. This series was done over a longer period, and there were other such in the same period. If the visitor should find errors in attribution, please let me know, and I will correct them.

Yamato Takeru, Disguised as a Woman, Attacks the Chief of the Kumaso Rebels
Yamato Takeru
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The son of the second century Emperor, Keiko, Wo-usu-no-Mikoto was a wild youth. After he killed his elder brother for failing to turn up for meals, his father sent him west, to aim his violence two Kumaso brothers who did not respect the power of Yamato. He defeated them by dressing as a woman and killing them while they were drunk. As a result of this exploit, he was renamed Yamato-takeru-no-miko.

Yamato Takeru expanded Yamato territory considerably, often by trickery which allowed him to kill enemies without being at risk. Despite samurai thinking that would regard this as dishonourable behaviour, he is admired by Japanese, high and low, for getting what he wanted and getting out alive. Terry Pratchett's Ghengis Cohen would have understood this.

Takenouchi no Sukune Proves his Innocence in the Ordeal of Boiling Water
Takenouchi no Sukune Proves his Innocence in the Ordeal of Boiling Water
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Takenouchi no Sukune is said to have lived 306 years, and served Emperor Chuai, Empress Jingu and Emperor Ojin: he is usually associated with Jingu (170-269), for whom he was Grand Minister, and with whom he invaded Korea.

The Japanese are very proud of the direct descent of their Emperor from Jimmu, and, through him, the sun goddess, Amaterasu. This pride is well earned, because, in the midst of the debate at court over the invasion, Emperor Chuai, who opposed it, died. It is said that the Empress was pregnant at the time, and put rocks in her sash to delay the delivery. When she and Takenouchi returned, two years later, the future Emperor, Ojin, was allowed to be born.

Jingu served as Ojin's regent for, apparently, sixty-nine years. At one point, late in the regency, Takenouchi was accused of treason, and underwent the ordeal of boiling water to prove his innocence. There seems to be some difference between the European and Japanese versions of this ordeal. In the west, one was required to emerge from the ordeal unscalded. It is clear from the print that this is not the case in Yoshitoshi's depiction of the scene. and Takenouchi is making no bones about the fact that it hurt.

Taira no Masakado Attacks an Opponent from Horseback
Taira no Masakado Attacks an Opponent from Horseback
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Taira-no-Masakado (903?-940) was a warlord in the remote Kanto area. In 930, he rebelled, on the pretext of Imperial taxes, killed the Taira governor of Hitachi in 935 and drove the Imperial civil service out of the province. Around 939, he declared himself Emperor of an independent state, seizing eight provinces. In response, the government invested constabulary power against the rebel in a number of other warlords -- an action future generations would regret. Masakado was defeated and killed in 940, some sources say by Fujiwara no Hidesato, others by Taira no Sadamori. I am inclined to accept the latter, as the Fujiwara were courtiers, the Taira warriors, and the outcome began the climb to dominance of the warrior class that culminated in the establishment the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192.

The byzantine tale of the Heiki(Taira) and the Genji(Minamoto) suggests it is a good idea to limit the number of junior royal lines, and never to give them weapons.

Taira no Kiyomori Gestures to the Sun to Stand Still
Taira no Kiyomori Gestures to the Sun
to Stand Still
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Yoshitoshi has already illustrated this story in his Mirror of Famous Generals. This, however, is a more dramatic rendering.

Taira no Kiyomori (1118 - 1181), fought beside the Minamoto against Sutoku's rebellion, however, when the clans became competing powers, he turned on them, executing all the males except three boys, Yoritomo, Noriyori, and Yoshitsune, an oversight his sons would regret. He confiscated Minamoto property, and the government. By 1180, Kiyomori was master of Japan, but he was also paranoid and delusional, seeing the ghosts of his victims everywhere, as Yoshitoshi portrayed in New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts.

This print depicts another story of Kiyomori's megalomania. He determined that a temple he was sponsoring would be built by the end of the day: when it looked impossible, he gestured his fan at the sun, commanding it to stand still until the work was done.

I have found no record that the sun obeyed....

Taira-no-Tomomori Sweeping the Deck on the Eve of Battle
Taira-no-Tomomori Sweeping the Deck on the
Eve of Battle
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Taira-no-Tomomori was the best general in the Taira clan at the time of the Gempei War (1180 - 1185) with the Minamoto, and one of the most insightful.

After a series of devastating defeats, the Taira were cornered at Shimonoseki Strait by Minamoto Yoshitsune. Tamamori, suspicious of the loyalty of Taguchi Shigeyoshi, urged his execution as a precaution, but was refused by Munemori, clan leader. Once the battle of Dan-no-ura began, Taguchi changed sides, telling the Minamoto which boat held the child Emperor. This enabled the Minamoto to concentrate their efforts and, despite a valiant attempt by Tomomori, the cause was lost. Munemori refused to commit suicide, and was shoved overboard by a disgusted retainer. The Emperor's mother, clutching her child, jumped, as did most of the Taira and their retainers. All were drowned except Munemori, who was captured by the Minamoto, and executed in shame at Kyoto for his failure to behave honourably in defeat.

The Tale of the Heike recounts that, when he realised the battle was lost, Tomomori leapt to the flagship, which he cleaned thoroughly, to deprive the Minamoto of the satisfaction of witnessing evidence of the final disarray in which the Taira found themselves.

Yoshitsune and Benkei Viewing Cherry Blossoms
Yoshitsune and Benkei Viewing Cherry Blossoms
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Yoshitoshi has treated the story of Yoshitsune and his retainer, Benkei, in his series One Hundred Views of the Moon and A Mirror of Famous Generals, as well as elsewhere.

Here, instead of focussing on their initial meeting on Gojo Bridge, Yoshitoshi shows them close to the end. Rather than depicting a moment of tension, or a standard battle scene, he chooses hanami, the viewing of the ephemeral beauty of the cherry blossom. Hanami is traditionally associated with mononoaware, the deep and poignant awareness of the passing of time, beauty and youth toward inevitable death. Few Japanese could look at this print without making the connection between the cherry blossom, mononoaware, and the impending death of the noble young Yoshitsune and his loyal man.

Nitta no Shiro Tadatsune Entering the Cave with a Torch
Nitta no Shiro Tadatsune Entering the Cave with a Torch
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In 1193, Nitta Tadatsune won the name Shiro by rescuing Minamoto no Yoritomo from a wounded boar while on a hunting trip near Mount Fuji. A few days after this event, he and some friends discovered a cave in the mountain. The others were afraid to enter, but Nitta no Shiro took up a torch and went ahead. They came to a large cavern, in which a goddess appearred to them -- the Buddhists say it was Kannon, the Shinto priests say it was the spirit of Mount Fuji. Either way, the companions were once again struck with terror, while Nitta remained calm. The goddess apparently congratulated him on his bravery, then vanished.

Yoshitoshi did a second take on this scene in his New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts an interesting composition that suffer,however,s from the oxydising ink he used for the flame which, over time, turns dark, eliminating the heat that is crucial to this scene.

Soga no Goro Tokimune Held Back by Gosho no Goromaru
Soga no Goro Tokimune Held Back
by Gosho no Goromaru
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In 1176, Kudo Suketsune murdered his cousin, Kawazu Saburo Sukeyasu. Kawazu left two sons, Goro, three, and Juro, five. The widow's second husband, Soga, adopted Juro and sent Goro to a temple to become a monk.

The brothers wanted revenge for their father and secretly trained in the sword. One day in 1193, Kudo was hunting with Shogun Yoritomo. Juro found out, grabbed a horse and rode flat out to Oiso, Goro's monastery. The brothers fled during the night, in a heavy storm.

At the hunting camp, Juro and Goro found Kudo, drunk, and killed him. The camp exploded in battle between Suketsune's retainers and the brothers. Juro was killed, and Goro captured by a wrestler named Goromaru, the scene shown here. Shogun Yoritomo ordered Goro executed.

Despite Yoritomo, perhaps because of him, the Soga brothers became heroes of the samurai revenge culture, stars of kabuki plots and woodblock prints.

Incomparable Woman Warrior: Han Gaku
Han Gaku
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Han Gaku lived in Niigata around the year 1200. She fought, unsuccessfully, the Kamakura shogunate and was sent to Kamakura for execution. She was saved by a warrior who asked for her to be spared and then married her.

Hojo Takatoki Fights Tengu with his Fan
Hojo Takatoki
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The Hojos, a line of the Taira clan, controlled the Regency against which the Emperor Go-Daigo rebelled to reclaim power. Hojo Takatoki (1303-1333 )succeeded to the Regency at thirteen, and never stood a chance. His father-in-law seized real power and provincial war lords rallied to the Emperor. Takatoki tried to get out of the situation by abdicating to a monastery. This did not work, and he found himself back in the struggle, even succeeding for a while in sending Go-Daiko into exile. But the revolt this provoked was so widespread that even former supporters turned against him, and he committed suicide with his family and retainers after being surrounded in Kamakura in May, 1333, bringing an end to the Hojo Regency.

Tengu are Buddhist mountain goblins and mischief makers. It is said that Takatoki took to drink in his later years -- and who can blame him -- to the extent that he saw the Japanese version of pink elephants.

Endo Musha Morito
Endo Musha Morito
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Endo Musha Morito became obsessed with his cousin, Kesa Gozen, the wife of a palace guard. Though she repeatedly rejected his advances, she became concerned that he might harm her husband to win possession of her. So she pretended to acquiesce, but insisted he kill her husband before they could be united. That night, Kesa cut her hair in male fashion and slept in her husband's bed. Endo crept in in the dark and beheaded the sleeper, discovering later that he had beheaded Kesa Gozen. Overwhelmed by guilt, he became the monk, Mongaku, and stood under the icy Nachi waterfall to atone.

Although Endo is both the subject and the title of the print, it strikes me that the courageous one in this story is Kesa, not her stalker.

Matsunaga Hisahide preparing for suicide
Matsunaga Hisahide preparing for suicide
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Matsunaga Hisahide (1510 - 1577) was Japan's one man Borgia family, his life a record of intrigue, back-stabbing and murder in pursuit of power. First, he murdered all other heirs of his boyhood friend, Miyoshi Chokei. This left Matsunaga sole heir when Chokei died in 1564. At the same time, he subjegated Yamato province, which gave him a power base.

In Kyoto, Shogun Yoshiteru was trying to break free of the control of the Miyoshi clan. On 17 June, 1565, an army sent by Matsunaga forced him to commit suicide, and installed the infant, Yoshihide, in his place. However, Matsunaga and the Miyoshi fell out. In 1568, the child shogun's brother allied with Oda Nobunaga, and Nobunaga marched on Kyoto. Faced with this unexpected development, Matsunaga feigned submission. In 1573, he tried plotting against Nobunaga, but was soon back onside, helping to destroy the Miyoshi.

In 1577, Hisahide rebelled. Oda Nobutada soon had him cornered in Shigi Castle. Oda demanded two things - Matsunaga's head and a specific tea item, which Matsunaga defiantly smashed before killing himself. It is said that he had his head blown apart to prevent Oda from getting even that satisfaction.

Yes, Matsunaga richly deserves the fate that has come upon him in this print. Nonetheless, one cannot help responding to the rage to live that Yoshitoshi has captured in that last, angry gesture. He does not want to go, and he is not going to act with grace and honour, and Oda be damned!


Kenshin Riding Through Battle Smoke
Kenshin Riding Through  Battle Smoke
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Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578), son of a vassal of the Uesugi, spent most of his life at war. He fought his way to clan leadership, local control, and eventually defeated even Oda Nobunaga in battle. Yoshitoshi also portrayed him in his series A Mirror of Famous Generals.

Uesugi Terutora took Buddhist vows as Kenshin, and was devoutly religious. He is most widely known as one of the few generals to defeat Oda Nobunaga, in 1577, using trickery against a much larger force. Kenshin and his army were at Matsuo Castle, surrounded by Oda's army. Suspecting that Nobunaga would attack at dawn, Kenshin sent a small force to march noisily upriver. Nobunaga thought Kenshin was splitting his forces, so Nobunaga attacked Matsuo by moonlight, before his army was fully ready. Kenshin absorbed the charge, counterattacked, and defeated the Oda forces.

Kato Kiyomasa Sees his Monkey with a Writing Brush
Kato Kiyomasa Sees his Monkey with a Writing Brush
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Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611) was a fierce, even cruel, warlord and a brilliant administrator. Son of a blacksmith, he, like his lord, Hideyoshi, came from Owari. A strict military man, he did not approve of poetry, but he did write a guide for samurai now called The Precepts of Kato Kiyomasa.

Kato lead the vanguard in Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea in 1592 and won the title Demon Shogun. After Hideyoshi's death, he sided with the the Tokugawa, to his ultimate enrichment. He rebuilt Kumamoto Castle and laid out an elegant city below it, using original schemes to control flooding and irrigate the land. He was popular with his peasants, as a result. As a fervent Buddhist, he also lead the fight against Christianity in Japan.

Apparently, Kiyomasa came home one day to find his pet monkey had taken an inkbrush and painted over his master's copy of Kung-fu-tse's (Confucius) Analects in black ink. At first, Kiyomasa was angry, but then laughed, asking the monkey if he, too, liked Confucius. While the story is said to have historical roots, the attribution is not clear.

Special thanks to Hiraguri Yuriko, who tracked down this information for me, and to Fujimura Tadanori, of Yamagouchi Prefecture, who took the time to answer her questions on my behalf.

Shinozuka Iga no Kami Sadatsuna
Shinozuka Iga no Kami Sadatsuna
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Another Kabuki hero, I can find no reference to him outside of three or more Kabuki plays. He is a Japanese superhero, immensely strong, shown here at Kawai Castle attacking enemies with a wooden pillar.

 

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