More Japanese legends in ukiyo-e

Last time, we told you about the Kintaro legend seen in both our Gajin Fujita and Yoshitoshi exhibitions. But given the wealth of stories in the Yoshitoshi exhibition, we didn’t want to stop there! Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s woodblock prints frequently drew on ghost stories and legends to create dyanamic and often terrifying images that would have called to mind well-known stories of his time.

This print is that of Kiyohime, and is part of a series Yoshitoshi entitled One Hundred Tales of China and Japan. This name references a popular game in the late Edo period (1615-1868) when a group would sit in a room with one hundred oil lamps. Each would take turns telling (usually scary) stories, and after each tale a lamp would be blown out. The room would get darker with each tale, and after the hundredth story the room would be completely dark, and ghosts and demons were said to appear. Kiyohime’s legend was perfect for this game–obsessed with a Buddhist monk named Anchin who rebuffed her advances, Kiyohime attempted to follow him to his monastery. Upon coming to the Hidaka River, she was unable to cross and became so enraged that she transformed herself into a serpent. She then swam across the river, and we see her in this piece emerging from the water. Yoshitoshi was particularly skilled in creating textile patterns, and you can see the suggestion of scales in Kiyohime’s garment. This wasn’t the only print of Kiyohime that Yoshitoshi made; a second work dated 1890 (25 years after the top image) is also in our exhibition.

Yoshitoshi also turned to legendary battles for inspiration. This work shows the encounter between Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Mushashibo Benkei on the Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. Both of these figures were real people living in the mid- to late-12th century. As the story goes, one night the warrior monk Benkei attacked the teenage Yoshitsune to steal the tip of his sword– Benkei needed 1,000 sword tips to create a weapon that would make him invincible. But Yoshitsune would not be beaten and Benkei was forced to concede defeat. Benkei became Yoshitsune’s loyal retainer, and eventually died defending him.

There are so many stories within this exhibition, and it’s only at Pacific Asia Museum through August 12! Make sure to come and take advantage of the detailed labels and our audio tour to get the most out of your visit. ~CM


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: