Vegder's Blog

June 19, 2020

The Sasarindō (笹竜胆): A Wondrous Minamoto Clan Crest – Part Three

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An emphasis on Tametomo, the uncle of Yoritomo and Yoshitsune… and a bunch of other related things

Let’s start our with Tametomo’s prowess with a bow


Kunisada print from the 1820s showing two demons struggling to
pull the bowstring of Tametomo bow
Lyon Collection


Here is a detail from the print shown above clearly displaying the sasarindō motif.


Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Tametomo carrying a basket of red fish –
maybe they are for the crane he captured
1853 Toyokuni III at
Ritsumeikan University

You will notice that Tametomo is carrying a bow in the print shown above. That is because this hero was known for his unbelievable physical  prowess. He could pull a bow string like no other man – or devil – alive. That bow is one of his most significant markers. It didn’t hurt that he was said to have grown to more than 7′ tall. In fact there is a Hokusai surimono in Paris that shows him as a boy already showing his nascent abilities. His mother is seated on our right in a robe decorated with the sasarindō.


Hokusai surimono from the series Godairiki (‘Vows to the Five Bodhisattvas’)
Bibliothèque nationale de France

Do you remember Yoritomo and his cranes from our first sasarindō post?


Kuniyoshi of Tametomo with a caged crane
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Clearly cranes, too, became a consistent theme. It is also clear that I have gone down another path, but I have at least kept the sasarindō foremost in my mind. Below is the center and right-hand panels of a Kuniyoshi triptych at the British Museum. On the left is Tametomo wearing robes decorated with the sasarindō motif. On the right is his bride, Shiranui, but mostly I chose to show it because it decorated with a panel with three cranes. A theme which cannot be ignored.

I have chosen to post just two of those prints, because… Well, let’s just leave it at that. Okay?


© The Trustees of the British Museum

Minamoto no Tametomo (源為朝) was Yoritomo’s uncle –


Tametomo kept from committing suicide by
an apparition of the Emperor Sutoku and
other members of the Minamoto clan
in the form of tengu.
This print is also by Kuniyoshi.

“On visiting the grave of emperor Sutoku (1119-64), which is overgrown with moss and wild grasses, Tametomo could not help weeping. He is about to commit seppuku in order to serve the emperor in the other world (yami) when he is visited by the apparitions of Sutoku and Minamoto forebears (among them his father and brothers). They talk of the past and the future with Tametomo, who then changes his mind and soon thereafter goes to Tsukushi…” Quoted from: Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi 1797-1861 by Robert Schaap, p. 95.

A cry for help!?

Some people, actually a lot of people, say that suicide attempts are cries for help. I am not always so sure. What about Tametomo and his suicide plans? If you look at the print above you will see that Tametomo is having an apparition – a hallucination, if you like – of the Sutoku emperor appearing to him surrounded by a group of ghostly figures, some of whom are clearly tengu. Then I ran across that famous triptych by Kuniyoshi with the big fish and Tametomo. It is entitled ‘Retired Emperor Sanuki Sends Allies to Rescue Tametomo’. And who are his allies? The tengu no less. If so, that is twice the tengu have intercepted to save Tametomo. While there are no sasarindō in the print shown below there are a lot of tengu. An admission: just looking at this image I always thought the tengu were bedeviling our hero. Boy was I wrong.


Tametomo being saved by tengu by Kuniyoshi in ca. 1850
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Too bad we don’t have an army of tengu in the U.S. today. Too bad.

If you want to keep smallpox at bay and away from your children, especially your boys, then hang an all red print of Tametomo near his crib –


An aka-e (赤絵) Kuniyoshi print of Tametomo meant to prevent smallpox.

The inexplicable can be made explicable – sometimes

There has always been a high regard in Japan for the Tale of Genji since it was written by Murasaki Shikibu at the beginning of the 11th century. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that it was used as a jumping off point for a series of knock-off novels and a multitude of print series. Do any of you remember the 1999 movie ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles? (I love Julia Stiles.) Good movie. It was a retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’. It was times better than the Franco Zeffirelli version of the original story with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Sir Richard Burton the actor, not the Sir Richard Burton of the 19th century who wrote about female circumcision, a fact can I never unlearn, no matter how much I wish I could. Ick! Ick! Ick!

Anyway, the mid-19th century began to see a re-purposing of the sasarindō mon. Murasaki Shikibu composed The Tale of Genji at the very beginning of the 11th century. The sasarindō became the personal crest of Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99) about 150 years later. Therefore it did not exist as a crest at the time that great novel was being written. It wasn’t until the era of the Rustic Genji appeared that the sasarindō came into decorative use on new telling of The Tale of Genji figures.  Somehow it appeared as the opposite of an anachronism, even though I don’t think there is a word for such things. But there it is showing up all over the place on late Genji related images.

I will post several examples below of that new use soon.


This example by Kunisada from 1851, representing the 3rd month in a series of 12
faux Genji, i.e. Minamoto, prints. Here we have Ashikaga Mitsuuji (足利光氏) with
Futaba no ue (二葉のうへ), his bride. You can’t miss the so in-your-face
sasarindō motif, even if you wanted to.
Lyon Collection

The confusion over and/or the conflation of the sasarindō motif is somewhat understandable. The names Genji and Minamoto are basically one and the same. They are interchangeable. The kanji 源 can be read as Minamoto or Gen, as in Genji 源氏. The Minamoto were also known as the Genji and the Genji as the Minamoto. As in the case of the print shown above of the fictitious Ashikaga Mitsuuji it is understandable that he would be wearing the sasarindō mon because the real Ashikaga were descended from the Minamoto. As Herbert Plutschow pointed out: “Many branch families of the Minamoto assumed toponymical surnames. The Ashikaga came out of Yoshiie’s [1041-1108] grandson Yoshiyasu (?-1157). They took their name from the Ashikaga manor in Shimotsuke province.”

There is a kabuki diptych in the Lyon Collection showing Arashi Rikan II as Hachiman Tarō Yoshiie, the putative ancestor of the fictional Ashikaga Mitsuuji. Notice that he is wearing the sasarindō.


Hokuei diptych from 1832
Lyon Collection


Detail of the new Shining Prince, Mitsuuji, peering in at a window.


Spring cleaning Rustic Genji triptych by Toyokuni III from ca. 1851
Lyon Collection

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