YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: A New Selection of Eastern Brocades (1885-1889)

Based on famous kabuki scenes, this series provides excellent examples of the way in which Yoshitoshi turned a stylised genre into natural pictures of real people doing mundane things. It is New because he had, early in his career, done a series called A Selection of Eastern Brocades, which this series both follows and far surpasses.

Komori-Yasu and Yasaburo - 1885
Komori-Yasu and Yasaburo
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Let's see... he is a young rake trying to get disowned so that his adopting father's biological son can inherit, although he really despises the fleshly pleasures. He meets a gangster's mistress and they fall in love. They secretly rendezvous, but are betrayed. She escapes, but he is caught, disfigured and thrown in the sea. She, thinking him dead, jumps into the sea, but is rescued by a wealthy Merchant who just happens to be boating by. The merchant takes her home, but does not make a play: she is faithful to her dead lover.

Here, Komori-Yasu, a small-time hood, meets Kirare-Yosa and suggests they go shake down this wealthy guy's mistress. Note the towel does not quite cover the scars. They tell her they need money to send him to healing spring, and she freely gives it. The hood leaves with the cash, but he remains to reveal he is really her lover.

She is delighted, but he accuses her of infidelity. Her protests avail her nothing. The Merchant returns. She tries to pass him off as her brother, but the Merchant recognises the hood and orders them both out. She tries to follow, but is restrained. Merchant exits, leaving her a charm bag. Inside is a letter telling her that her benefactor is really her brother. He returns, she shows him the letter, they swear eternal love and live happily ever after.

Kusunoki Bids his Son Farewell - 1889
Kusunoki Bids his Son Farewell
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Kusunoki Masahige (1294 - 1336) supported Go-Daigo's revolt. When Go-Daigo was exiled, a huge army laid siege to Kusunoki, but he tricked his way free: he ordered the castle torched in a huge funeral pyre, and he and his army slipped out at night, leaving the Hojo temporarily convinced that all were dead.

In 1333, with the rest of the Imperial forces defeated, the entire Bakufu army marched against Kusunoki at Fort Chihaya, Mount Kongo. But he had prepared. He used straw warriors, rockslides, boiling water, pitfalls, and rolling logs against them, exacting astonishing casualties. The attackers tried to bridge a ravine that protected Chihaya, but Kusunoki waited until the bridge was loaded with warriors, then burned it. Shortly thereafter, Ashikaga Takauji went over to the Imperial cause, and the last Hojo Shogun committed suicide.

Peace was short. Kusunoki again rallied to Go-daigo, although he objected to the tactics being urged by the High Command, tactics he felt would lose the war. He was overruled by the Emperor himself. Reluctantly, he joined an army he knew was doomed. Before leaving, he visited his eleven-year old son, a visit depicted above. It is said he urged the boy to be brave and remain loyal to the Emperor, regardless of the outcome of the conflict.

It went as he feared: Kusunoki's small contingent found itself alone to face Ashikaga Tadayoshi's entire army. They fought bravely, but were overwhelmed. Kusunoki committed suicide, and the loyalist cause was doomed.

The Priest Ikkyu, the Courtesan Jigokudayu and Attendants - 1886
The Priest Ikkyu, the Courtesan Jigokudayu and 
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Ikkyu (1394-1481) was a Zen priest, poet, essayist, calligrapher, aesthete, and critic of the Zen heirarchy. Apparently an inconvenient son of Emperor Gokomatsu, he became an accolyte at age five, and expert in Chinese learning by age fifteen. In 1410, he took up strict meditation, and in 1420, upon hearing a crow's caw, reached Enlightenment. Thereafter, he lived Mad Zen in brothels and taverns, wandering the streets waving a human skull, and had numerous affairs with prostitutes, celebrated in his poems. He criticised the wooden Zen practiced in monasteries, and lived a fusion of Zen and the world.

Jigokudayu was a famous courtesan in Sakai, one of Ikkyu's mistresses, who, the tale is, studied meditation with him and eventually achieved Enlightenment. The pair are the subject of novels, kabuki and prints, Jigokudayu usually in a padded robe decorated with scenes from the Buddhist Hell and/or accompanied by ghostly skeletons, to indicate her insight into the fleetingness of beauty and life.

The Battle between Miyamoto Musashi and Master Tsukahara Bokudan - 1885
The Battle between Miyamoto Musashi and Master Tsukahara Bokudan
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Okay, Tsukahara died in 1572, and Miyamoto was not born until 1584, but that just does not make for compelling narrative. You have to imagine Tsukahara became a hermit so that he lived long enough to teach Miyamoto the secrets of swordsmanship. Doing pretty well, really, for a man of at least 102 years old....

Most westerners know Miyamoto Musashi as the author of The Book of Five Rings, a meditation on how to win in battles large and small, that was ever so popular with Boomers back in the 1970s: it formed a nice segue between their mystical hippie years and their maniacal yuppie years. Since the author was a disturbed and hyper-aggressive sociopath -- killing his first man at age 13, and going on to slaughter everyone, including children, who got in his way -- it is not surprising that North American culture took the turn it did thereafter.

The Story of Tamiya Botaro - 1886
The Story of Tamiya Botaro
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This scene is from Osanago no adauchi, roughly A Child's Revenge. Butaro's father was murdered in 1624 by a jealous fencing master. Botaro swore revenge and trained himself in the sword, becoming a brilliant swordsman. At seventeen, he took on the fencing master and killed him. This scene shows Botaro and his nurse, Otsuji, who is hauling water from a well. Hiroshige had done a very similar print, also naturalistic, which may have influenced Yoshitoshi's depiction here.

Sakura Sogo Setting Off for Edo - 1885
Sakura Sogo
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This touching, intimate scene is based on history: in 1652, Sogoro Kiuchi was headman of Kozumaru, now Narita, outside Tokyo. Famine meant the villagers could not pay their taxes. Relief required a direct appeal to the Shogun, but such appeals were illegal. The Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna, was a weak man, a mere figurehead for an unyielding bakufu. Nonetheless, Sogoro went to Edo in September (I guess it snowed early that year...). Ietsuna granted his request, but the bakufu condemned Sogoro and his family to death: on August 3, 1653, he, his sons and wife were killed.

The villagers, in gratitude for Sogoro's sacrifice, built a shrine to him on the grounds of Tosho Temple, where they held an annual vigil on the day he set off for Edo. After 1868, this became a festival which is still celebrated. The tale is a relief from revenge, violence and the warrior code -- a man who stood up for the poor. Still, I imagine Sogoro would rather have lived to see grandchildren....

Special thanks to Rob McDougall, whose trip to the library found this story.

Evil Omatsu Murders Shirosaburo - 1886
Evil Omatsu Murders Shirosaburo
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This story was popular in the 1870s in newspapers and kabuki, where it is featured in the play Kinsei Suikoden, The Contemporary Water Margin. The title refers to the well-known Chinese Tales of the Water Margin, about Robin Hood-style bandits living outside the law by their own strict code.

Omatsu, always referred to as Evil Omatsu, is based loosely on a historical figure, a woman of the outcast class who used her surpassing beauty to escape her origins. The popular version falls into the poison woman genre. Omatsu is said to have become a courtesan, seduced, married and murdered Shirosaburo, a blind samurai, become an outlaw, and ended up as leader of the bandit gang. In short, she did everything that was admirable in a male folk hero, but poison in a woman. In the rigid class structure of Tokugawa Japan, it was obvious to all that a woman who used her gifts to attain social mobility was capable of anything!

Shirakoya Okuma - 1886
Shirakoya Okuma
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Shirakoya Okuma was a historical figure, executed in 1747 for murdering her husband to run off with her lover. Since the early Meiji government forbade the portrayal of women onstage as evil (don't ask me why), she and her lover were portrayed in Kawatake Mokuami's 1873 drama as victims of Shinza, an ex-gangster hairdresser, and being freed in the end. The play involves any number of complications, including kidnap, rape, extortion and blackmail, but no murder that I can find, and ends up with Shinza being cheated out of his ransom by his own landlord. What happens to Okuma we never do find out...


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