Dover Book

Text box with description of Book

Utagawa Kuniyoshi lived from 1798 to 1861, and, according to Wikipedia, "was one of the last great masters of the ukiyo-e style of woodblock prints and paintings." Ukiyo-e means "pictures of the floating world," and refers to art that depicts, also according to Wikipedia, the hedonistic lifestyle of the merchant class, the lowest social order in the 17th century, who benefited, and often became wealthy as the city of Edo (Tokyo) grew rapidly in that period. These people also patronized the pleasure districts, which included kabuki theatre, courtesans and geishas. The subject matter for the ukiyo-e style was typically that of popular culture: beautiful women, samurai and sumo wrestlers, theatre actors, along with landscapes, and history/folk scenes.

Kuniyoshi's father was a silk-dyer, Yanagiya Kichiyemon. Kuniyoshi's original name was Yoshisaburō. He was accepted by the print master Utagawa Toyokuni in 1811 as an apprentice, then given the name Kuniyoshi in 1814, when he became an independent artist.

Other important artists of the Utagawa school were Kunisada, Yoshitoshi, and Hiroshige.

This collection depicts samurai from two historical events. The first is of those who were notable in the last period of Japanese civil wars that lasted nearly a century. This period began with the seizing of power by a minor chieftain, Oda Nobunaga, in 1568. After his death, his cause was taken over by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who became Japan's ruler in 1590. The second is from a historical tale of revenge, and is somewhat comical, though in both of these collections, most of those depicted either were killed or forced to commit suicide, which was an act of honor for samurai.

The prints in this Dover edition are beautiful, but there is too little information about them, and almost nothing about Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The titles Dover has applied to the series are Taiheiki eiyū den, or Heroic Biographies from the "Tale of Grand Pacification." I found that online as Heroic Stories of the Taiheiki. The second series, Seichū gishi den, or The Faithful Samurai, also called Stories of the True Loyalty of the Faithful Samurai. You may read the story at the Kuniyoshi Project website. In the Dover edition, however, the high official in the shogunate who publicly insulted Lord Asano was named Kōno Musashi no Kami Moronao. Also, according to the Dover edition, the attack upon the mansion took place on December 14, 1702, which was two years after Lord Asano committed suicide because he drew his weapon inside Edo castle, a dishonorable act.

Anyways, it is all quite interesting! Each image also has a brief description below, and there is a page which explains the Japanese writing on the images, i.e., which is the artist's signature and seal, the text, series title, etc..

Here are some of the images included in the book. I obtained these online because they are better quality than if I had photographed them from my own book. The first six are from the Heroic Biographies from the "Tale of Grand Pacification."

Image 1: Oda Nobunaga, the warlord who began the battle of which this series is concerned
Image 49: Kobayakawa Takakage with a box of sweets for the tea ceremony
Image 32: Kimura Matazō Shigekatsu depicted as a sumo wrestler.

Kobayakawa Takakage

Kimura Matazō Shigekatsu

Oda Nobunaga

Image 37: Ishikawa Hyōsuke Kazumitsu, wounded and bleeding
Image 17: Mori Ranmaru Nagasada attacks Akechi Mitsuhide who turned against Oda Nobunaga
Image 26: Negoro-no Komizucha, a fierce warrior monk

Mori Ranmaru Nagasada

Negoro-no Komizucha

Ishikawa Hyōsuke Kazumitsu

These are from The Faithful Samurai. Notice the difference in their armor, this story being set over a century later than the one above.

Image 53: Yatō Yomoshichi Norikane drinks tea before battle
Image 71: Oribe Yahei Kanamaru, age 78, the oldest warrior to participate in the attack
Image 83: Sugenoya Sannojō Masatoshi gets entangled with a closet scent ball and streamers

Oribe Yahei Kanamaru

Sugenoya Sannojō Masatoshi

Yatō Yomoshichi Norikane

Image 77: Tominomori Suke-emon Masakata dodges a hibachi thrown at him
Image 57: Sakagaki Genzō Masakata was known to enjoy sake more than the others
Image 89: En'ya Hangan Takasada, Lord Asano, whose forced suicide was being revenged

Sakagaki Genzō Masakata

En'ya Hangan Takasada, Lord Asano

Tominomori Suke-emon Masakata


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