HISTORICAL PRINTS BY HIROSHIGE
IN the various series to be described in the following pages we see Hiroshige's not unsuccessful attempts to rival Kuniyoshi in the domain of illustrations to history, legends, and drama, even as the latter tried his hand at landscape in compliment to Hiroshige. Although, as a rule, Hiroshige was not particularly successful outside the province of landscape, yet at times he exhibits unexpected dramatic powers.
The first series which we will pass in review is one dealing with incidents from ancient Chinese and Japanese history, of which only five plates are known. As these prints are highly interesting from the subjects illustrated and are, moreover, of a high order of merit both in drawing and colouring, we here illustrate each scene.
There is no series title, but the names of the characters in each scene are given; each plate is full size, oblong, and has a white feathered border on a green ground; publisher Fuji-hiko. Very rare. The drawing is particularly sharp and clear and the brilliant yet harmonious colouring compares very favourably with the best Tokaido views; c. 1840.
Yoshisada was a distinguished Minamoto general, and a follower of the Emperor Go-Daigo-Tenno, who was at war with the Shogun, Takatoki, of the Hojo dynasty. The latter was beseiged at Kamakura by Yoshisada who, finding the sea too rough to cross over to the town, threw his sword into the water to propitiate the waves. At ebb tide the sea calmed, and Yoshisada was able to cross the inlet and capture Kamakura. (See Plate 56.)
2. Chohi defending Chohan Bridge, an incident from Chinese history. He is represented mounted on a coal-black charger, armed with a long lance, and scowling fiercely at the advancing enemy as they approach the bridge, a structure of stone spanning a waterfall, through a rocky defile, with banners flying. In the distance a deep blue sea and a mountainous coast on the horizon, rising into a red sky.
Chohi was distinguished by his stature, long hair, fan-like heard, and a long, double-edged spear, characteristics with which Hiroshige has endowed him in this print. He was a celebrated Chinese warrior (Chang Fei, died A.D. 22) who joined forces with two other distinguished generals, Kwanyu and Gentoku (Liu Pei), his brothers-in-arms, and fought against the usurper Tsao-Tsao, in the wars known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (A.D. 184). Of these three Kwanyu was the most famous, being canonized as an immortal in 1128, deified as the Chinese God of War in 1594, under the name of Kwanti, and finally, in 1878, raised to the same level as Confucius as an object of national worship (Joly, Legend in Japanese Art).
Gentoku became Emperor of China on the fall of Tsao-Tsao in 220. All three generals began life in a very humble
way. Gentoku was a maker of straw sandals and mats; Kwanyu a seller of bean curd, who spent his spare time in
study (Kwanyu studying a book on strategy is the subject of illustration in a fine surimono reproduced
at Plate 9 in our quarto edition); while Chohi was a
blue-eyed, red-haired butcher.
The incident in his career here illustrated depicts an episode in the story of the Undefended City, in which Chohi sends away all his army and defends the town single-handed against the forces of Tsao-Tsao which had just inflicted a defeat on Gentoku.
Meanwhile his own army makes a flanking movement, joins that of Kwanyu and Gentoku, and attacks Tsao-Tsao from the rear inflicting defeat on him.
3. Snow scene. Fight between Sato Tadanobu and Yokogawa Kakuhan at Yoshino.
Tadanobu was one of the chief retainers to Yoshitsune. When the latter was flying from the persecution of his half-brother, Yoritomo, he was attacked by the Yamabushis (warrior-monks) of Yoshino, who were adherents of Yoritomo. To allow Yoshitsune time to escape, Tadanobu donned the armour of his leader and fought, single-handed, the Yamabushis, led by Yokogawa Kakuhan.
Scene on the bank of the Uji River in flood. Takatsuna in mid-stream urging his horse through the flood, while Kagesuye, holding his bow by the string in his mouth, halts on the bank to tighten the girth of his saddle; his standard-bearer leans against a tree watching Takatsuna crossing.
On the further bank is situated the camp of Yoshinaka, and in the distance a range of blue mountains.
Kagesuye was a retainer of Yoshitsune, whom he accompanied, in 1184, in his expedition to quell the revolt of Kiso Yoshinaka against Yoritomo. Coming to the Uji River which was in flood, a ford was found by Takatsuna, who was familiar with the locality. Yoshitsune gave Kagesuye his own horse whereon to ride across, and he was the first to essay the passage. Takatsuna, however, who was mounted on one of Yoritomo's horses, plunging into the stream after Kagesuye, called after him to tighten his girth, and as he stopped to do so, Takatsuna got across first.
Scene on the beach at the foot of a green slope on which two pine trees are growing; beyond is the Castle of Ichi-no-Tani backed by precipitous mountains, and out in the bay lies the Taira Fleet. An incident in the wars of the Taira and Minamoto clans which were a counterpart of our own Wars of the Roses.
This is the best plate of the series, the colouring being particularly fine. Against a clear sky, a purple glow on the horizon changing to orange at the top, rise steep blue and grey mountains washed at the base by a deep blue sea. The green and purple armour of the two figures is contrasted with the grey sand of the beach, and the bright red trappings of the horse with the green slope behind it; on the extreme left, forming a frame as it were, is a cliff coloured a beautiful rose-pink.
There are two versions to the incident here portrayed, the historical and the dramatic.
Atsumori was a youth of sixteen in command of the defenders of the Castle of Ichi-no-Tani, which was laid siege to by Yoshitsune, in 1184, Kumagai being one of the Minamoto generals taking part in it.
The castle was taken by Yoshitsune attacking it from the steep mountain side, from which an attack was considered impossible, and therefore left undefended, and all the defenders fled to their ships to escape. Atsumori, however, was too late and betrayed himself by playing on his flute, which Kumagai heard. He was on the point of killing Atsumori, renowned for his beauty, when he saw in him a resemblance to his own son, and would have spared his life, but for the taunts of Hirayama Suyeshige (the figure standing on the top of the green slope) at his allowing a Taira to escape. Kumagai thereupon slew him, and sent his head and flute to Yoshitsune. Later, filled with remorse for his deed, he shaved his head and became a monk, retiring to the temple of Kurodani, at Kyoto, under the name of Renshobo.
The dramatic version is from the play Ichi-no-tani Futaba Gunki, written by Namiki Sosuke (
The Tale of
the Sapling of Ichi-no-Tani). This version, of course, is elaborated with improbable episodes in order
to suit the public taste, and to convey the moral which is the dominant theme in all Japanese plays, that of
loyalty to a chief at all costs. Accordingly Kumagai saves Atsumori's life by sacrificing that of his own son,
in obedience to secret orders from Yoshitsune, which orders were conveyed to him by a notice set up on a board
under the cherry trees before Atsumori's camp, which read:
It is strictly prohibited to injure the cherry blossoms
(an allusion to the youthfulness of Atsumori).
Anyone cutting off one branch shall he punished by having one
finger cut off.
Kumagai, therefore, induces his son Kojiro to fight his way into the Castle of Ichi-no-Tani, change clothes with Atsumori so as to deceive both friend and foe, and finally to he killed by his father in order to convince everyone of Atsumori's death.
There was, however, a treacherous samurai, Hirayama Suyeshige, who wished to see both Kumagai and his son Kojiro dead, so that he should have the distinction of attacking and capturing the Castle of Ichi-no-Tani, and of killing Atsumori.
When therefore Kumagai, in apparent desire to save his son, rushes up to the entrance and asks Suyeshige (who had previously urged Kojiro to fight his way in first, pretending to yield this honour in his favour as an encouragement) if he has seen him, the latter exhorts him at once to go to his help, which he does.
Suyeshige then congratulates himself that now both father and son are caught like mice in a trap and are sure to be killed.
Almost immediately afterwards Kumagai comes out supporting his son (really Atsumori in Kojiro's armour) as if wounded, and takes him to his camp.
Suyeshige, seeing his plans frustrated, prepares to take to flight, but he is surrounded by Atsumori (really Kojiro) and other soldiers who were following Kumagai and forced to fight. All this is taking place at night.
He manages to beat a retreat, and the supposed Atsumori is the only one to follow him, but in the darkness he loses sight of him. He there-fore rides back to camp to join the now defeated Tairas in the embarkation, but he is too late, as not a ship remains. He thereupon rides his horse into the waves in an attempt to reach the retreating ships.
At that moment he hears a voice hailing him from the beach and challenging him to fight. He turns his horse to the shore again and accepts the challenge which comes from Kumagai himself. They fight, and (the supposed) Atsumori is defeated.
This is the incident portrayed by Hiroshige.
It was, therefore, the disguised Kojiro whom Kumagai killed on the beach at Ichi-no-tani, addressing him as Lord Atsumori in the most polite language, so that neither friend nor foe should see through the stratagem. Kumagai had thus fulfilled Yoshitsune's cryptic instructions to save Atsumori.
In the Happer sale catalogue mention is made of eleven full-size, oblong plates, belonging to an even rarer series
than the above which we have just described, the total number of which is not known. It is entitled
Hon Cho Nen Reki dzuye,
An illustrated Japanese Calendar (of events). Each plate is numbered,
and has text in the upper part; publisher Jo-Kin. This is the only mention which the writer has noticed
of this extremely rare series, and no prints from it have come under his observation; he quotes it here as a matter
Amongst the legends illustrated in these eleven plates are the following:
1. Izanagi and Izanami descending from heaven. Izanagi was the creative divinity of Japan who was sent by the heavenly deities, accompanied by his wife Izanami, to consolidate the land, then floating about in a chaotic state.
2. The gods making music to allure Amaterasu, the sun goddess, born of the left eye of Izanagi, out of her hiding-place. She sulked in a cave, and thus cast darkness over the world, and was only lured out of it by the dancing of Ame-no-Uzume, a beautiful immortal. In memory of this legend the dance in Japan has been honoured as a religious ceremony and developed as a fine art, in grateful remembrance of the dance that was the means of bringing back the goddess of light to the land of the rising sun, a symbol which they have adopted as a national emblem.
To find, then, the origin of dancing in Japan, which in turn gave rise to the origin of the drama, we must go back to the remote period when history becomes fable and when the simple occurrence of a solar eclipse is attributed to supernatural causes.
3. Urashima and the Dragon King's Daughter. Urashima was a fisher-boy who one day caught a tortoise, but good-naturedly returned it to the water. In return for his kindness he is taken to the palace of the Dragon King of the sea under the waves, and given his daughter in marriage, who was none other than the tortoise disguised as such. After three years of life in the depths of the sea, Urashima expresses a desire to return home to see his family and relations again. Unwilling to let him go, his wife however consents on condition he promises faithfully to return to her, at the same time giving him a box with strict injunctions not to open it. He returns home, only to find the place changed and his parents and their descendants long since dead. Then it suddenly occurs to Urashima that his three years under the waves in the palace of the sea King were in reality three hundred years, and that there was no use staying on earth any longer. So he hastened to return to his wife below the waves, but unable to find the way, forgot her strict injunctions and opened the fatal box in hopes that it would be able to direct him. As he did so a white cloud came out of it and floated away, and as the last traces of it disappeared, Urashima fell down dead on the beach.