Seigen's Depravity

YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: The Deprevity of Seigen: 1889

Somewhere behind the variant tales, I suspect a true story. But by the time the narrative demands of gossip, folktales and kabuki get through with it, all we are left with is a name.

Seigen, fifth abbot of the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto, fell in love with a courtesan. Her name, in the tales, was Sakura-hime. The kabuki play, Sakurahime azuma bunsho (1817), by Tsuruya Namboku, claims that she was the re-incarnation of his male lover, an acolyte, with whom Seigen had formed a suicide pact. When the older man lost his nerve at the last second the boy, as he fell to his death, cursed his faithless lover. Seigen next seduced an aristocratic girl, Sakura-hime, who was reduced to prostitution as a result of the relationship. She became pregnant by another man, which provoked Seigen to a jealous rage and, in attempting to kill her, he fell on his own knife and died. This is the version of the story that Yoshitoshi illustrates in his New Forms of Thiry-Six Ghosts, in a print done in the same year as this one.

This print follows a different variant: it is Sakura-hime who is dead, and Seigen is left with his obesession and her kimono. Yoshitoshi clearly depicts the impact of Seigen's illicit affair: the former abbot is emaciated, hollow-eyed and unshaven. His tonsure is gone, as is his vocation, and his hair sprouts wildly.

Whichever version is closer to the truth, the story suggests that hormones remain the most dangerous drugs of all....

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Yoshitoshi biography.

 

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