YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: A Short Illustrated History of Japan: 1880-1881

A series of ten triptychs, each is drawn as if it were a scroll, opened to a moment in time.

Empress Jingu Lands in Korea
Empress Jingu Lands in Korea
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Tradition says Empress Jingu(170-?269?), at her husband's death, assumed power, and led an victorious conquest of Korea. Takenouchi no Sukune, the old man on the left, is closely associated with her, as Grand Minister.

Emperor Chuai opposed the invasion of Korea, and his death was pretty convenient. It is said that the Empress was pregnant when he died, and put rocks in her sash to delay the delivery. When she and Takenouchi returned victorious, two years later, the future Emperor, Ojin, was allowed to be born.

Now, honestly, if you heard that story anywhere else.... And, just to add spice, historians are beginning to think that Jingu represents not Japanese invading Korea, but Koreans invading Japan, something that fits more neatly with her victorious conquest of Kyushu, an island that, as far as they can tell, was already a part of the dominant kingdom in Japan at the time of Jingu's career.

Emperor Sutoku
Emperor Sutoku
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Sutoku (1119-1164), 75th Emperor, was forced by his father, Toba, to abdicate. He hoped his son would be made Heir Apparent, but this did not happen, so, when Toba died in 1156, he rebelled against the reigning Emperor, Go-Shirakawa, in a fight that split the clans as fathers and sons took sides with differing Imperial candidates. The complexity of Japanese politics at this time can be glimpsed in the fact that Toba had been Cloistered Emperor, Go-Shirakawa reigning Emperor and Sutoku retired Emperor, the standard situation. If you enjoy reading the General Accounting Principles, you can find more than any sane person wants to know at the library or on the internet.

Sutoku lost the war in 1158, and was exiled. Here he is shown refusing to receive the priest, Renyo, who has come from the capital. Sutoku sent him packing with nothing more than a poem -- a poem which must have been a model of bad manners.

The Battle of Dan-no-ura
The Battle of Dan-no-ura
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The naval battle of Dan-no-ura (1185) was the end of Taira clan power. Cornered on their ships by Minamoto Yoshitsune, outnumbered three to one and betrayed by some of their retainers, the Taira went down fighting, and earned themselves the traditional Japanese admiration for brave and doomed warriors.

When it became clear the battle was lost, many Taira lords committed suicide by jumping into the sea. Among them were Taira Kiyomori's widow and Tokuko, the mother of the child emperor, Antoku, who took her son with her. The figure on the left is Taira Tomomori, the leader of the Taira in battle. It is possible that the figure making a grab for him is meant to represent Yoshitsune, as he is dressed in Minamoto rather than Taira colours.

Some Taira warriors are said to have survived the end of the clan's power in the mountains, where legend has it, they lived in hidden villages for several generations.

Emperor Go-daigo Escapes the Burning Castle
Emperor Go-daigo Escapes the Burning Castle
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When Go-Daigo(1288-1339) ascended the throne, real power was with Hojo clan, who alternated the throne between a senior and a junior line of the Imperial family, for better control. Go-daigo, of the junior line, was intended only to hold the place until a member of the senior line could grow into it. But he refused to step down, and plotted to overthrow the Hojo. Betrayed, he fled Kyoto in 1331, taking refuge in the mountaintop monastery at Kasagi. The shogunate sent a huge army against him, and, despite the valour of the defenders, managed to overthrow the castle. Go-Daigo, who as Emperor was unused to walking more than a couple of steps at a time, was forced to flee during a thunderstorm in bare feet, disguised in a peasant's rain gear. The storm scattered his supporters, so that only the brothers Fujifusa and Suefusa were left to assist him in this new and unpleasant exercise.

Despite the assistance of the brothers, Go-Daigo was captured, deposed, and exiled to Oki Island. In 1333, his partisans overthrew the shogunate, and he returned to implement his reforms, establishing Imperial power in both civilian and military government. However, some of his supporters found that, without the bakufu, there weren't the perks they expected. Ashikaga Takauji expected to be appointed Shogun, and was refused. In 1336, he rebelled, establishing his own Emperor. Go-Daigo set up a rival Southern Court in Nan-cho that lasted until 1392.

 

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