A GUIDE TO JAPANESE PRINTS - BASIL STEWART
ILLUSTRATIONS TO BIOGRAPHY AND MISCELLANEOUS SUBJECTS
In biography, scenes from the life of Yoshitsune, one of the most famous warriors of old Japan, are amongst the most popular.
The best-known, though rare, series of this subject, perhaps, is the set, complete in ten full-size, oblong plates, by Hiroshige, entitled Yoshitsune Ichi dai Zu-ye, "Biography of Yoshitsune, Illustrated." The titles to each plate are as follows :
(Some of the plates in this series are numbered, that illustrated at Plate 59, Illustration 2, being No. 8, but the order given below, being chronological, is that generally accepted.)
1. Tokiwa's Flight through the Snow with her Children, in allusion to the flight of his mother, Tokiwa Gozen, the fairest woman in Japan, with her three children, Imawaka, Otowaka, and Ushiwaka (otherwise Yoshitsune), in the depth of winter, after the death of her husband, Minamoto no Yoshitomo, from the soldiers of his enemy, Taira no Kiyomori. (See Plate 59, Illustration 1.)
2. Learning to Fence from the King of the Tengus. This refers to his early (legendary) life, when he was taught fencing, wrestling, and other physical attainments by the Tengus, mythical creatures, half bird and half human.
3. Visiting Ise no Saburo, a hunter whose services Yoshitsune enlisted.
4. Yoshitsune and Joruri Hime, daughter of Ki-ichi Hogen, the great Taira strategist, whose books on war he induced her to let him see.
5. Combat with the Priest Shirakawa no Tankai at the Gojo Temple. A very good moonlight scene. (See Plate 59, Illustration 2.)
6. The Combat and Defeat of Benkei on Gojo Bridge, Kyoto. Another very fine moonlight scene; perhaps the best-known print of the set. Benkei was a famous swordsman, a giant in strength and stature, who allowed no one to pass over the Gojo Bridge without challenging him to fight. At last, after innumerable victims, he met in Yoshitsune, though a much smaller man, one who was more than a match for him, thanks to his thorough training as a swordsman under the Tengus. From that day to the end Yoshitsune had no more faithful adherent than Benkei.
7. Killing of Sanada-no-Yoichi. The allusion in this scene is apparently to the combat between Yoichi and the strong man Matano-no-goro, who overcomes him. On a previous occasion Matano had tried to kill Yoichi by hurling a great rock at him, but the latter caught it and threw it back. Nasu-no-Yoichi, a different character to the above, was a famous archer in the employ of Yoshitsune, and his great exploit was to shoot down the fan fixed on the mast of one of the ships of the Taira fleet at Yashima, a scene depicted in a triptych by Kuniyoshi.
8. Battle of Mikusayama, at which Yoshitsune defeated the Taira.
9. Climbing the Cliffs of Hiyodori Goye, in order to attack the Taira Castle, Ichi-no-Tani, from behind. These cliffs were so steep that it was said even monkeys could not descend them.
10. The Descent on the Castle of Ichi-no-Tani. While one party attacked the castle in front, Yoshitsune and his warriors descending the cliffs behind, from which no attack was considered possible, broke into the stronghold from the rear, and entirely defeated the Taira clan.
Illustration 3, Plate 59, is from another, extremely rare, series with same title, full size, upright, of which this is the only plate known; issued during the Prohibition period; engraver's seal of Tako. (Not mentioned by Happer.)
This plate (No. 2 of the series) shows the youthful Yoshitsune during his novitiate at the temple of Kurama-yama, in Kyoto (being originally intended for the priesthood), making his nightly journey to the waterfall, there to pray to the gods to give him strength and perseverance to avenge his father's death. In his mouth he carries his prayer-bell. In the year 1154 he makes his escape from the temple to carry out his plan of revenge.
Another biographical series is that depicting scenes from the life of the priest Nichiren, by Kuniyoshi, entitled Koso go Ichidai Rya-ku-zu, "An Abridged Biography of Koso, Illustrated," Koso being another name for Nichiren, the founder of a sect of Buddhists named after him in the thirteenth century (A.D.).
This series which is very rare, consists of ten full-size, oblong plates ; publisher, ISE-YA RIHEI.
The following are the scenes comprising this series:
1. Preaching to fishermen from the bank of the river. This plate is sometimes described as "exorcising the ghost of a fisherman." This hardly gives a correct meaning of the Japanese title, as the scene has nothing to do with the ghost of a deceased fisherman which haunted the place and required exorcising or "laying." A better translation is "converting the spirit of " a fisherman, that is to a better appreciation of his religion, which he was apt to neglect.
2. Buddha appearing to Nichiren, by moonlight, in the trunk of a tree.
3. Nichiren's defence with his rosary. Attacked at Koshigoye by a horseman and other soldiers on foot, sent by the Shogun to arrest him for execution, at the instigation of his enemies, he invokes Buddha, and their arms are rendered powerless. This enmity was due to his attacks upon other sects.
4. The Averted Execution. As the sword of the executioner touched his neck it broke, and at the same time the Shogun's palace at Kamakura was struck by lightning. Nichiren was then ordered to be exiled.
5. Quelling a storm raised by the demon Daimoku, while on his way to exile in the Isle of Sado. (See Plate 60, Illustration 1.)
6. Nichiren praying for rain after a long drought at Kamakura, whither he had returned from Sado in 1273. He is shown standing on a ledge of rock overhanging the sea under an umbrella held by a companion. A fine rain scene.
7. Attacked by a Yamabushi (a sect of "mountain-warriors," half monk, half warrior), who hurls a rock at Nichiren to crush him, but he keeps it suspended in the air by merely gazing at it. (See Plate 60, Illustration 2.)
8. While Nichiren was praying at Mount Minobu, whither he had gone from Kamakura, a beautiful woman appeared to him in the form of a huge snake.
9. Defeat of the Mongols in 1281, whose invasion Nichiren had predicted in a book written in 1260, in a great storm caused by his prayers.
1o. Nichiren walking barefoot up a steep mountain-side in deep snow, while on a pilgrimage in the Tsukahara Mountains, in Sashiu. Considered the masterpiece of the series. A snow scene worthy to rank with any of Hiroshige's similar masterpieces. (Illustrated in colours in Joly's Legend in Japanese Art.)
Another well-known character, scenes from whose life are portrayed in colour-prints, is Kintoki (or Kintaro), the golden boy, wild child of the forest, and his foster-mother, Yama Uba. He is supposed to have been lost in the Ashigara Mountains by his mother, and to have been found eventually by Yama Uba, who adopted him and brought him up. Kintaro is the boy Hercules of Japanese mythology, who performed prodigious feats of strength, such as struggling with a gigantic carp, or vanquishing a bear and an eagle at the same time, uprooting a huge forest tree to make a bridge over a rushing torrent when overtaken by a storm on his way home.
His attributes are the deer, hare, monkey, and she-bear, while his weapon is an enormous axe. He is also frequently shown accompanied by oni, a generic term for devils, with horns growing out of their heads.
The three principal artists who portrayed scenes from the life of Kintoki are Kiyonaga, Utamaro, and Kuniyoshi.
Illustration 3, Plate 60, is taken from a series by Kiyonaga, showing Kintoki riding a wild boar and holding a small open fan; on the far side is his bear carrying his axe, and on the near side two oni, one carrying his sword and the other a staff with a bunch of gourds at the top. It will be noticed that this series has no title; it is signed Kiyonaga, and bears the publisher's sign of Yeijudo of Yedo.
It is uncertain how many prints are comprised in a complete set, but twelve different scenes have come under observation, and of these ten appeared in one collection (Anonymous sale, June, 1913). Out of some twenty-four different catalogues of sales of various dates since 1909, in only three was this series mentioned, one containing a set of ten plates (as quoted above). This series, therefore, must be very uncommon. The plate here reproduced was originally in the Hayashi collection.
In the collection of Sir Daniel Hall - sold at Sotheby's, July, 1918 - there appeared a black and white proof of a print apparently intended for this series, showing Kintoki with his foot planted on the back of his bear. This proof bears no signature nor publisher's mark; this print, therefore, probably never got beyond the outline proof stage.
Akin to the foregoing are the "Hundred and Eight Chinese Heroes," a popular subject with Kuniyoshi.
The "Hundred Poets" have been mentioned in an earlier chapter; also the "Six Famous Poets." Of these latter, the poetess Ono-no-Komachi has various incidents illustrated separately, sometimes in parody or transferred to scenes in everyday life, just as the "Chushingura" drama and other popular subjects are treated in various ways.
These seven incidents are as follows :
1 . Soshi arai Komachi: "Komachi Washing the Book," in allusion to a poetical contest at the Imperial Palace, when a rival poet accused her of having stolen from an old book of poems the verse she recited as her own composition, and in support of his claim produced a copy with the verse in it. Komachi, however, was equal to the occasion, and, calling for water, took the book and washed it, when the poem, being but freshly written, disappeared, leaving the original writing untouched. The accuser, thinking to get the better of Komachi, had hidden himself while she recited the poem to herself in her house, and had copied it into the book.
2. Seki dera Komachi: Komachi seated in a temple, or seated on a mat.
3. Kiyomidzu Komachi: Komachi at the Kiyomidzu Temple.
4. Kayoi Komachi: Komachi visiting.
5. Amakoi Komachi: Komachi praying for rain; alluding to an incident when the country was suffering from a severe and prolonged drought, and the power of her magic alone broke the spell.
6. Omu Komachi: Parrot Komachi, so called because, when given a poem sent her by the Emperor, she repeated it with but one word altered.
7. Sotoba Komachi: Komachi (seated at) a grave post, in allusion to her penurious old age, when she was obliged to beg by the wayside.
In deities there are the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, who are generally treated humorously. Their names are: Fukuro-kuju, the god of wisdom and longevity, identified by his abnormal forehead. This abnormal development is due, so his votaries maintain, to his constantly racking his brains to secure to his believers their happiness and long life. He is represented as a venerable old man with a beard, and sometimes be carries a fan in his hand.
Next to him comes Daikoku, the god of riches. He can be readily recognized by his mallet, a stroke with which confers wealth on its recipient, and his rice-bales, upon which he is sometimes shown seated. His familiar is the rat, the thief and destroyer of rice, emblematic of the care with which the wealth hidden in his bales must be guarded. The Festival of Daikoku is held on the day of the rat.
The third deity is Yebisu, the god of food and the patron of fishermen. He wears the black cap worn by persons of rank, and is always shown with a large tai fish, and often also with the rod and line by which he caught it. Yebisu's festival is on the twentieth day of the tenth month.
After Yebisu comes Hotei, the god of contentment, who corresponds to our Friar Tuck. He is portrayed as a fat, jovial person, often scantily attired, thus showing the ample proportions of his stomach. He carries a staff and a linen bag (ho-tei), from which he derives his name. He is a particular favourite of children, and when represented singly, as in surimono, is often shown carrying children in his bag.
The fifth deity is Juro-jin, the patron of learning. As a sign of his wisdom he is shown with a highly-developed forehead, though not to the exaggerated extent of Fukuro-kuju ; but as he wears a large cap, something like a bishop's mitre in shape, this physical peculiarity is less noticeable in his case. He is of a venerable aspect, with a white beard and of a more solemn mien than his companions; he carries a long staff.
When all the seven deities are represented together on board their ship, Juro-jin is often shown in conversation with Benten, the lady of the group, and the goddess of fertility and music. In the latter capacity she is shown holding a biwa, a stringed musical instrument she is said to have invented.
Lastly we have Bishamon, a warrior in armour, the god of war and glory. He holds a lance in one hand and a small pagoda shrine in the other, emblematic of his patronage of the priestly caste.
A popular representation is to show these seven deities grouped together on board their ship, the Takarabune, which is supposed to sail into port every New Year's Eve bearing the takaramono, or treasures. Amongst these treasures are Daikoku's mallet and rice-bags; the hat of invisibility; the inexhaustible purse of money; and the lucky raincoat, which protects its wearer against evil spirits.
Accompanying the Takarabune are the crane and the tortoise, both emblems of long life. The tortoise is represented as a more or less supernatural creature; while its body is natural, it is finished off with a broad, hairy tail, said to grow when it is over five hundred years old; hence the hairy-tailed tortoise as an emblem of longevity.
Ghost stories and legends was another popular subject, particularly with Kuniyoshi, who designed a large number of prints of this nature. Such is a series of Tokaido views, upright, the joint work of Kuniyoshi and Hiroshige, in which the title, Tokaido Go ju San Tsugi, is written in large white characters on a black label in the top right-hand corner, which with descriptive matter occupies the upper third of the print, the rest being an illustration of a ghost story or other legend connected with the station.
There is also a similar series by Kuniyoshi of the Kisokaido stations, each place being depicted in a small inset, leaf-shaped panel, while the principal illustration portrays a ghost story or legend.
Of the same nature as the foregoing is a series, also the joint work of Kuniyoshi and Hiroshige, entitled Ogura Magai Hyak'unin Isshu, "An Imitation of the Ogura Selection of the Hundred Poets," that is the anthology collected by Fujiwara-no-Sada-iye. Each print of the series carries the number of the poem and publisher's mark (Ibasen) in the margin, and some of them also have the seal of the engraver, Take.
Like the above Tokaido series, the title and poem occupy the upper third of the print, and below an illustration to a story or of a character famous in history or legend, which is supposed to have a connection, real or imaginary, with the poem. Sometimes the poem only is given, and sometimes a portrait of the poet on a bean-shaped panel, with the poem written round the figure.
Illustrations 3 and 4, Plate 52, page 288, show the two forms, the former being referred to under the Chushingura.
Illustration No. 4 is the poem of the minister Yoshinobu, No. 49 of the anthology, and the principal subject is the samurai, Endo Musho Mirito. The poet compares the constancy of his love to the watchfulness of the palace guards at night, in allusion, no doubt, to Endo's fierce love for Kesa Gozen, the wife of another samurai, Watanabe Wataru. As she resisted Endo's entreaties, he vowed to kill her family unless she allowed him to make away with her husband and be his wife. She accordingly told him to come on a certain night, when he would find her husband asleep; but she selected a time when the latter was absent, and Endo, coming to the room appointed, killed the sleeping individual he saw there, only to find afterwards it was Kesa herself. Overcome with grief, he repented, and became a priest under the name of Mongaku, inflicting penance on himself by sitting under the icy-cold waterfall of Nachi, where he would have died, had not two Buddhist deities descended from heaven and rescued him.
The story of Endo and Kesa Cozen is made the subject of a drama entitled Nachi-no-Taki Chikai No Mongaku, "The Priest Mongaku at the Waterfall of Nachi," a famous play founded on actual events which took place in 1143 and forms part of the Gempei Seisuke ("History of the Taira and Minamoto Clans"). The title of the play is taken from the final scene, the penance of Endo for the murder of Kesa, an incident often found illustrated in prints and surimono.
When Endo realizes his ghastly error he rushes back to Kesa's dwelling and there confesses his crime to her husband and mother, asking the former to behead him to avenge his wife's death. Wataru, however, satisfied with his confession and repentance, refuses to take his life, but instead retires with Endo to a monastery and there spends the rest of his life in prayers for Kesa. Endo, however, having survived his long and austere penance, comes forth from the monastery, though still as the monk Mongaku, and becomes counsellor of the Shogun, Yoritomo, whom he incites to attack the Taira. He is eventually exiled to Okishima for plotting against the Emperor Tamehito, and dies there in 1199.
In the room where Kesa is killed is found a letter addressed to her mother, setting forth the reasons which led her to sacrifice herself for her husband; Kuniyoshi here represents Endo reading the fateful epistle.
Another well-known set of prints by Kuniyoshi, full size, oblong, is the series entitled Ni-ju-shi-Ko Doji Kagami, "The Twenty-four Examples of Filial Piety," which are remarkable for their curious application of European pictorial ideas to a Chinese subject, but which detracts from them as works of art. They represent scenes of children doing some pious work or sacrificing themselves for the benefit of their aged parents. The characters in them are Chinese, drawn in a semi-European manner. As an example of the subjects portrayed, we will quote two of the scenes (i) Moso looking for bamboo sprouts in winter-time to make soup for his mother, and (ii) Yoko rushing in front of a tiger to enable her father to escape. These prints, which are uncommon, are interesting to the collector rather for the curious nature of the drawing than for their artistic merit.
In romance we have illustrations to the "Genji Monogatari," incidents in the life of Prince Genji, generally represented in the company of beautiful ladies, in allusion to his inveterate habit of love-making. These tales were written in the tenth century by a Court lady, Murasaki Shikibu, already alluded to as a poetess.
In some cases the title, Genji Monogatari, is merely a fanciful one, the picture being a portrait of a tea-house beauty.
In miscellaneous subjects we find representations of the twelve months with people at occupations suitable to each month, or taking part in a festival which occurs in that month. Or again, as in a set by Toyomasa, with whom children were a favourite subject of illustration, we have children playing at a different game for each month.
Similar to the twelve months are the Go-sekku or "Five Festivals" (to which we referred under the subject of "Figure-studies"), being the five chief festivals throughout the year. These are as follows:-
1i. The first day of the first month (Shogatsu), that is, New Year's Day, when people wrote congratulatory poems to one another.
2. The third day of the third month, the girls' doll festival (Yayoi).
3. The fifth day of the fifth month, the boys' festival (Tango), which is to a Japanese boy what a birthday is to a European boy.
4. The seventh day of the seventh month (Tanabata), the weavers' festival.
5. The ninth day of the ninth month, chrysanthemum festival (Choyo).
These festivals have, unfortunately, practically fallen into disuse.
Evelyn Adam in Behind the Shoji, published in 1910 (though written some years previously), says that, "ten years ago (say c. 1900), the boys' festival, like the Tanabata, was still universally kept; in another ten years both will have fallen into oblivion," like many an old custom in this country.
On the fifth day of the fifth month there floated above every house, where there was a son in the family, a large paper fish tied to a long bamboo pole. The fish represented was the carp, the emblem of perseverance, which the parents hoped their sons would emulate in their struggle through life against any obstacles they might encounter. A fish was displayed for every son in the family.
At the Tanabata festival a branch of freshly-cut bamboo, hung with strips of coloured paper on which short poems are written, is displayed over each dwelling.
There are different versions of the legend which the Tanabata festival celebrates. The story concerns the daughter, Shokujo, of the sun-god, and the herdsman, Kengiu, chosen by him to wed her. On the wedding day the bride became so frivolous that her father became angry with her, and exiled Kengiu to the other side of the Milky Way (in Japan called the Celestial River), while Shokujo became the weaving princess. They were allowed, however, to see each other once a year, on the seventh night of the seventh moon (corresponding in our calendar to the latter part of August or the early part of September). On that night the Milky Way is spanned, if the sky is clear, by a bridge of magpies, by means of which the lovers may meet. If, however, it rains, the River of Heaven rises so that the bridge cannot he formed, and husband and wife must remain separated for another twelve months. The poems attached to the bamboos which float over every dwelling are prayers for fine weather, the bamboo being emblematic of the River of Heaven (in Chinese legend the "Bamboo Grove").
In bird and flower (Kwa-cho) studies, the chief exponents were Masayoshi (very rare; full size, oblong), Hokusai, Utamaro, Hiroshige and two independent artists, Sekkyo and Sugakudo, and (more recent) Bairei.
Hokusai designed a set of ten small upright prints of this subject, which are extremely rare, and are considered amongst his best work. They are on a deep blue background, which state probably denotes a first edition. A reproduction in colours from a copy of one of the set in the British Museum is illustrated in Von Seidlitz's book on Japanese Prints.
This set has been reproduced exceedingly well, and the writer has seen copies without the blue background of which it was difficult to say whether they were originals or reproductions.
There is also a well-known set of twelve, full-size, oblong bird and flower prints, designed for a book published in Osaka about 1848, by Katsushika Taito (w. 1816-1850), pupil of Hokusai, but bearing the forged signature of Zen Hokusai I-itsu (i.e. I-itsu, formerly Hokusai), one of Hokusai's well-known signatures. These prints have also been exceedingly well reproduced. Hiroshige has designed some excellent "Kwa-cho" prints in panels of various sizes, while Sugakudo (c. 1855) has left a very fine series of forty-eight prints, full size, upright, which are worthy to rank amongst the best illustrations of any artist in this subject, when first edition copies. (See Plate 6.) They are divided into the four seasons, with twelve birds and flowers appropriate to each. The best print of the set is generally considered Plate 10, representing a large red parrot and a flowering plant. Another very fine plate is No. 17, a white heron half hidden behind a clump of iris in flower, while several others are excellent.
Utamaro's work in this subject chiefly takes the form of book-illustrations. Of this nature are two volumes, entitled Raihin Zue, "Exotic Birds," published in Yedo, 1793 , of which the first consists of ten full-size (that is double-page) plates of birds and flowers, and two plates of pictures of Chinamen, these latter inserted, according to the preface, because they were the importers of the birds. The second volume consists of text only.
In addition to the bird and flower series by Hiroshige mentioned above, he also designed a series of fishes, full size, oblong. This series is in two sets of ten prints each, one signed in full Ichiyusai Hiroshige, and the other Hiroshige only. This series is rather rare, and the collector should beware of late issues and reprints, which often show faults in printing, neither do they carry the publisher's seal (Yeijudo), nor, sometimes, the artist's signature.
In mythical creatures we find representations of the dragon, the ho-ho bird, and the shishi, either introduced as screen decorations or otherwise brought into a picture when showing, for example, the interior of a room. They also appear as subjects for surimono, particularly the dragon.
The ho-ho is represented as a gorgeously coloured bird with a superb tail of long waving feathers. It is something like a pheasant or a peacock, a fanciful combination of both.
The shishi is a highly imaginative lion of Chinese origin. Stone shishi are found in the gardens and grounds of Buddhist temples, like their stone lanterns. In pictorial art shishi are often depicted throwing their cubs from the top of a steep cliff, and watching them climb back, in order to test their strength. Should the cub survive this ordeal it was sure to have a long life. We have in mind a print by Hiroshige depicting a shishi watching the struggles of its cub to scale the steep cliff.
The semi-mythical hairy-tailed tortoise has already been alluded to as one of the attributes of the Gods of Good Fortune.
It is interesting to note that other Japanese art objects, such as inro and sword-fittings, were frequently decorated with designs taken, in some instances, almost line for line from those found in prints or book-illustrations.
 The first volume was subsequently issued in a second edition with the name of Utamaro omitted from the first plate on which it had first appeared, and that of Kitao Masayoshi substituted on all the plates which are signed Keisai and sealed Kitao Masayoshi. The pictures of Chinamen are also omitted, while the volume of text was not published a second time. No definite reason can be assigned for the substitution of Masayoshi's name for that of Utamaro ; possibly the former had a greater reputation for this kind of subject in his day.