YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts, 1889-1892

The Spirit of the Komachi Cherry Tree
The Spirit of the Komachi Cherry Tree
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Lord Kuronushi, on his way to attempt the overthrow of the Emperor, paused to build a shrine, to ensure the success of his plot. He planned to use an ancient cherry tree for the wood, but, as he was going to cut it down, its spirit appeared to him in the form of Kurozume, a courtesan with magical powers. After winkling from him the details of his plot, Kurozume disappears, to be replaced by the very angry Sakura spirit, who thumps the villian thoroughly with her branches.

Kiyohime Changing From a Serpent
Kiyohime Changing From a Serpent
   at Hidaka River
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Kiyohime was the daughter of an innkeeper. On his annual pilgrimage to the Kumano Shrine, the young monk, Anchin, stayed at the inn, and brought Kiyohime a present. As she grew up, Kiyohime developed a passionate love for Anchin, which she finally declared. Horrified, he fled to his monastery, Kiyohime in pursuit. The Hidaka River was too flooded to cross, so she changed to a serpent to swim over. Seeing her coming, Anchin hid under the temple bell. The serpent coiled around the bell, and the heat of her lust melted the bell, killing both.

This is an instructive print, because, in 1865, Yoshitoshi had done an almost identical print. Comparison of the two marks how far he had grown as an artist in the intervening years, and how much he was changing the assumptions of his art. The second print shows the impact of realism on his depiction of the human body and clothing, an awareness of the mind within the subject, a subtle depiction -- entirely lacking in the first -- of Kiyohime's transformation, a masterly grasp of composition and action, and the amazing fluidity of line that was uniquely Yoshitoshi.

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The Ghost of Okiku at the Dish Mansion
The Ghost of Okiku at the Dish Mansion
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Okiku worked as a maid in the mansion of Baron Aoyama Tessan, a courtier to the child Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsugu (1709-16). There are several versions of her story.

The Baron had a set of ten plates: some say they were heirlooms from China, others that they were Delft porcelain entrusted to him by a Dutch merchant. One plate was broken. Some claim Okiku was polishing them, others that the Baron's wife was responsible, and blamed Okiku. A Kabuki play suggested that the Baron was trying to seduce Okiku, threatening to break the plate unless she gave in. It is clear is that Okiku took the blame for a broken plate.

Most tales agree that Okiku threw herself into the well in shame, but some insist the Baron killed her, and threw the corpse in himself. However it happened, thereafter Okiku was heard nightly, counting from one to nine, then breaking into wild sobs, over and over. It is said that the haunting drove the Baron insane. It is also said that his wife, made of sterner stuff, got a friend to come over one night: when the ghost reached nine, the friend loudly finished with "ten!", and Okiku was heard no more.

The well is in the garden of the residence of the Canadian Ambassador to Japan, built on land bought from a later Baron Aoyama. Okiku is not lonely -- the immediate area has several ghosts, almost all associated with the cruelty of one or another of the Barons Aoyama.

The Fox-woman Kuzunoha leaving her Child
The Fox-woman Kuzunoha leaving her Child
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There are endless versions of this story in Japan: they involve a hunter or woodsman either sparing or rescuing a fox, a special tree, or one of a dozen natural things. He later meets a beautiful girl, falls in love, and gets married. He has to promise that he will not watch her at certain times, a promise that his curiousity leads him to violate, so that he sees her in her true fox/tree/heron/whatever shape. Because of that, she has to leave him. Yoshitoshi has chosen a less commonly known version of the story to illustrate.

The Heian noble, Abe no Yasuna, when walking in the garden of the Inari temple in Kyoto, rescued a fox that was being hunted for its liver -- used in Japanese medicine. Shortly thereafter, he met and married a beautiful girl named Kuzunoha. She bore him a son, but, after three years, she left him. Three days after she left, she appeared to him in a dream, telling him not to mourn, for she was not human, but the fox he had rescued.

The delicacy of this print makes it a masterpiece: from small tears in the lamp to the child's hand on his mother's robe to the revealing shadow on the screen, the story is told with hints, leaving the viewer to fill in the tale.

Nitta Tadatsune Sees an Apparition in a Cave
Nitta Tadatsune Sees an Apparition in a Cave
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Nitta Tadatsune was a retainer of Minamoto no Yoritomo. In 1193, while on a hunting trip near Mount Fuji, he and some friends discovered a cave. The others feared to enter, but Nitta took up a torch and went ahead. They came to a large cavern, in which a goddess appearred -- the Buddhists say it was Kannon, the Shinto priests say it was the spirit of Fujisan. Either way, the companions were once again terrified, but Nitta remained calm. The goddess congratulated Nitta on his bravery, then vanished.

Yoshitoshi did a previous version of this scene in Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors.

Kiyomori Sees Hundreds of Skulls at Fukuhara
The Fox-woman Kuzunoha leaving her Child
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Tairi no Kiyomori (1118 - 1181) established the first samurai-dominated administration. Through unsurpassed cruelty, treachery, mass murder and megalomania, he became the undisputed master of Japan, as well as one of the most hated figures in its history. Despite nominally retiring and taking religious orders in 1168, and lavishing money on temples and public works in an effort to buy off divine retribution, by 1180, he was seriously paranoid and delusional, seeing the ghosts of his Minamoto rivals everywhere. This incident took place in the winter of 1180-81: looking into the garden of his palace at Fukuhara, he saw that the entire landscape was made up of the skeletons and skulls of his many victims. He developed a fever and died shortly afterwards.

It is worthy of note that, despite the clear justice of Kiyomori's madness and demise, his pattern of ruthlessness, imperial marriages, religious orders and grand public works was emulated by successors for centuries.

The Priest Sogi Responds to the Two Ghosts
Sogi Responds th the Two Ghosts
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Sogi Iio (1421-1502), a prominent poet and priest, was educated in Japanese classics and poetry. With his followers, Shohaku Botanka and Socho Saiokuen, he collaborated on the renga poem One Hundred Stanzas by Three Poets at Minase. He is particularly associated with renga, a form of linked verse with complicated rules. He also wrote a great many books, including poetic anthologies, annotations of the classics, and travelogues.

Sogi is known to have made literary pilgrimages throughout Japan. These journeys were the rage among the literati of his time. Writers visited places famous from literature, legends, and history, seeking the spiritual force of each, a particularly Shinto concept. A visitor who made felt the mystic aura in a location was felt to have a connection thereafter to those who had been there before.

Sogi stayed in the Kanto, the plain now mostly covered by Tokyo, during the Onin War (1467-1477), the devastating brawl among warlords that destroyed Kyoto and, eventually, the Ashikaga bakufu. Although he returned to Kyoto in 1472, he died on one of his pilgrimages.

I have not been able to find a specific story to go with this print.

The Lucky Tea Pot of Morin Temple
The Lucky Tea Pot of Morin Temple
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There are apparently many interpretations as to what, exactly, this animal is. Stevenson, in his major work on the series, calls it a fox. Some of my Japanese friends say it is a badger, and Mr. Laurent Bussiere, a Yoshitoshi admirer who lives very near the Morin Temple, recently wrote to tell me it was neither: it is a tanuki (raccoon dog). After some research, it is pretty clear that he is right. The animal pictured here is a tanuki. Special thanks to Mr. Bussiere for letting me know.

The Japanese regard the fox and the tanuki as shape-shifters. In fact, fox society is imagined to reflect human society, with lords, servants and laborers, dressed appropriately, living by lantern light in the forest. There is apparently no tradition of badgers assuming human shape and or dress.

Either way, the teapot and the tanuki are the same, and the tale is popular enough in Japan to have acquired many versions. My personal preference is for the fox version of the tale, because of an indirect connection to the foxes that accompany Daikini Shinten: one must show respect to ones' tutelary gods.


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