Vegder's Blog

October 15, 2010

Asahina (朝比奈), his haha (母)- and a bunch of other people

Let me be clear about something – absolutely clear: I know next to nothing about Asahina. Of course, I have read about him in the past, but I am getting to that age where sometimes I can’t even remember if I have read something or not. Memory loss has its advantages, however. I can now experience things over and over again as if they were brand-spanking new each and every time. Oh the joy! Another reason I picked this character is that I love to learn and I love to do research. At the same time that my physical diet becomes increasingly restrictive – no salt, no sugar, no fat and loads of brown rice – my spiritual and intellectual diet grows exponentially and is ravenous – like a black hole for information. The exception to the black hole theory is that WordPress allows me the opportunity to share some of the things I have been studying before they get lost to me forever. So, for now let’s – that’s you and I – enjoy what turns up. For me, it is always interesting.

Asahina image by Hirosada from ca. 1848

Asahina’s chichi (父) and haha (母)

How does one prove paternity when the subjects are legendary figures? Is there a DNA test which we could give to Zeus and Athena to prove their undeniable relationship. Remember she was said to have emerged fully grown and in full armor from the side of her father’s head. His headache was truly ‘splitting’. So, who was Asahina’s father? Sources say it was Wada Yoshimori (和田義盛), but actually the question is – Who was his mother? Asahina is believed to have been a real person, but one about whom a whole raft of legends have grown up – like that of being the son of one of the greatest women warriors of all time, Tomoe Gozen, his haha.

In Jewish tradition – not Japanese – a child is Jewish if the mother is Jewish. While it may matter what the father is it isn’t doesn’t hold the same importance as that of the maternal side because, prior to DNA testing, one could almost always be sure who mother was, but not necessarily the father. It is for this reason that Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, descended from the House of David, came to be viewed as the King of the Jews. That was his lineage. In a similar way, Asahina’s story is as shrouded in mysteries and is as unfathomable and unprovable as that of other miraculous children.

Tomoe Gozen (巴御前) was his momma… or, was she?

Some say she was and others aren’t quite sure. Some scholars don’t believe she ever existed. Steven T. Brown in the Theatricalities of Power: The Cultural Politics of Noh noted that Tomoe’s roles “…seem to have multiplied with each retelling of her story. Tomoe comes to be described variously as a female warrior, servant, general, mistress, wife, nun, miko, asobime. [A miko is  a shrine maiden and asobime is an archaic term for a prostitute.] Indeed, Tomoe’s biography is so enfolded in legend that it is impossible to say precisely where the historical reality ends and the literary construct begins when confronted with the plethora of contradictory accounts purporting to describe the details of her life.” (Louis Frédéric in the Japan Encyclopedia said: “It is not certain, however, that he [i.e., Asahina) actually existed [either].”)

Kitao Shigemasa (北尾重政) detail showing Tomoe Gozen astride her horse. The blue background is mine.

Professor Brown, who teaches at the University of Oregon, did a comparison of some basic information about Tomoe Gozen. For example, he chose the Battle of Awazu in 1184 as a focal point. 1) In the account in the Hyakunijūkubon manuscript she is said to have been 22 years old. 2) According to the Genpei seisuiki (源平盛衰記) she was 28. 3) In the Enkeibon (延慶本) recension she comes in at 30. But Brown goes way beyond the issue of our heroine’s age: “In Genpei seisuiki, she is said to be the daughter of Nakahara Kanetō; the sister of Higuchi no Jirō Kanemitsu, Imai no Shirō Kanehira, and Ochiai no Gorō Kaneyuki; and the foster and lover of Kiso no Yoshinaka. However, in the Genpei tōjōroku [源平闘諍録] (Chronicle of the Minamoto-Taira conflict), Tomoe is represented as the mistress of Higuchi no Jirō Kanemitsu rather than his sister. And yet elsewhere, she is described as the daughter of this same Higuchi no Jirō Kanemitsu rather than his lover. Moreover, we are told in Genpei tōjōroku that, after fleeing from Awazu, Tomoe was summoned by Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99) to Kamakura, where she met and married Wada Yoshimori (also known as Wada Saemon, 1147-1213), one of Yoritomo’s chief administrators and an accomplished warrior in his own right. Their union supposedly produced one child, the legendary warrior Asahina Saburō Yoshihide, said to have inherited his superhuman strength from his mother’s side. But an account in Azuma kagami places into question the historical veracity of this story by suggesting that Asahina was already nine years of age at the time of the Battle of Awazu, making it unlikely that Tomoe could have been his mother.”

Here are two panels – center and right – from a Kuniyoshi triptych from ca. 1851-2. They are a promised gift to the British Museum from the collection of Professor Arthur Miller. Tomoe is shown on horseback being given water. There are a number of arrows stuck in her armor. Yoshinaka is seen on the far right on his horse trying to cross some frozen waters. The whole triptych is in this collection, but I chose to show just these two sheets. The title of the triptych is Awazu-gahara o-kassen no zu 粟津原大合戰之圖 (Battle of Awazu Moor). To see the whole thing visit the museums web site. (© Trustees of the British Museum)

According to the Genpei seisuiki Tomoe became a nun after the Battle of Awazu and the death of Asahina. “Since Ishiguro was familiar to her, there she took the tonsure, and as Tomoe the Nun made offerings of flowers and incense to the Buddha, and prayed for the repose of her lord, her parents, and her son Asahina in the next world. She lived until the age of ninety-one.” In many of the accounts of the battle scene Yoshinaka knew he was doomed so he sent Tomoe away rather than letting her die with him. She resisted but Yoshinaka insisted saying: “If you disobey my orders, our karmic bond of three lives as master and servant will cease to exist.” Professor Brown adds: “According to the well-known Buddhist maxim, social relationships could be differentiated according to the longevity of their of their karmic bonds: ‘Parent and child, one life; husband and wife, two lives; master and servant, three lives.”

Statues of Yoshinaka and Tomoe. This is a detail of a photo posted by Πrate at commons.wikimedia.

Nevertheless, the confusion about Tomoe Gozen doesn’t stop there. She retired to different cities – each claiming for themselves her sole residency – and it is said that she is buried in no fewer than three different locations. [I was once driving down the back roads of northeastern Nebraska and saw a weathered sign that claimed that place as the home of the “World’s Largest Something-or-other”. There wasn’t anything there but the sign. About 60 miles further on – now in southeastern South Dakota – I saw another weathered sign making the exact the same pronouncement:  “World’s Largest Something-or-other”. There wasn’t anything there either. They might as well have been talking about Tomoe Gozen, for all that it mattered. In fact, they still can.]

Not only that, but her name appears in different Japanese manuscripts written 7 different ways. This flummoxed me at beginning of this section, because nearly all Internet entries appear under one main use, 巴御前, which can be helpful while doing research, but are not entirely accurate. Even one of the books in my personal library gives an alternate reading of her name. However, when I tried plugging it into a search on web the results were less than satisfying.

It is at this point that Professor Brown went into a discussion of a theory put forward by Jacques Derrida (ジャック.デリダ) stating that the originator of a quote or name is immediately separated from its use and whatever comes of it like multiple readings and interpretations. At least, that is how I understand it. He finishes by saying: “From this perspective, the question ‘Who is Tomoe?’ seems impossible to answer…” Amen to that!

Kunisada print of Tomoe Gozen from the ca. 1830s.

Making babies – A number of years ago I sold a small erotic print from the early to mid-19th century – artist unknown – of Tomoe Gozen engaged in ‘the act’ while still dressed in full armor. For those guys who have always imagined what it would be like to do it with Xenia: Warrior Princess this is about as close as you will ever get.

Is it just plain Tomoe or is it Tomoe Gozen?

Brown goes into a discussion of this listing 5 points which I will try to summarize here. But first he noted: “Tomoe is never once addressed as ‘Tomoe Gozen’ in any of the extant Heiki monogatari variants, and yet this is how she is widely known today.” Why? 1) It was an honorific “…used in the presence of or in relation to members of the nobility…” 2) It was a shortened version of gozenku who was a forward rider in the service of the nobility. 3) Gozen was a second person pronoun used when addressing one’s own wife or the wife of another. 4) It was a generalized honorific used during the Edo period covering various groups and their wives. 5) It was an honorific attached to kami, nobility, miko, shirabyōshi and other types of female entertainers. Brown also argues that if the legends about Tomoe’s associations with the nobility had been true at the time of the Heiki monogatari she would have been called Tomoe Gozen even then.

Tomoe in the Nō repertoire (and elsewhere) – There were quite a few Nō Tomoe pieces only some of which are still performed today. Her’s is the only woman warrior play still viewed. The Veiled Tomoe and Bamboo-basket Tomoe were both of the shura-mono (修羅物) or warrior plays, but are no longer in use. Outside of the warrior plays two others are still be put on: Present-Day Tomoe and Present-Life Tomoe.

In some of the earliest manuscripts Tomoe is a miko attached to the “[Awazu] shrine dedicated to Kiso no Yoshinaka.”

Asahina meets his match

The strongest man of his age was Asahina with one exception perhaps, Soga Gorō (曾我五郎). The story of Gorō and his brother Jūrō was the most famous tale of revenge prior to that of the Tale of the 47 Loyal Retainers. There were innumerable versions telling of the adventures of the Soga brothers who set out to make right the death of their father. In one dance-ballad known as Wada’s Wine Feast Asahina Saburō is sent to drag Gorō into the room where everyone has gathered, but Gorō resists and stands firm. In the struggle the only thing Asahina can move is part of the hip plate of his opponent. In fact, he rips it from his armor. This incident is referred to as shikoro biki (錣引), I believe.

Asahina grabbing at the armor of Gorō by Torii Kiyomasu (鳥居清倍). This print from 1717 is shown courtesy of the British Museum. (© Trustees of the British Museum)

Screeeeeech! Let’s make a 180° turn NOW! Ignore the previous comments! They may be worthless!

Researching Japanese prints can be a real b**ch. One day you read one thing and the next day something totally different. At times both are right depending on their sources, but at other times there is no possible way. For example, above I said Asahina was trying to drag Soga Gorō into the party. Shudder. That is based on information found on page 137 of The Ballad-Drama of Medieval Japan. However, Professor Leiter says in an entry on Kusazuri Biki Mono (草摺引物) or “Armor-pulling works” that Asahina struggled with Gorō to keep him away from the New Year’s gathering. It seems to me one can’t have it both ways. On this count I think I will go with Leiter – until I learn otherwise.

It is said that “…Gorō attained his superhuman strength by praying to the tantric deity Fudō.”

Another thing about the struggle illustrated in the Kiyomasu image: This little vignette was often inserted into plays which had nothing to do with Asahina or Gorō. I suppose it would be like inserting a scene from The Terminator into Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz. Why? I can’t tell you, but I could speculate – but I won’t. I’ll leave that to you.

Despite the nature of the struggle portrayed in the print shown above Asahina was often scripted as an ally of the Soga brothers.

Also, before I go any further I have to let you in on a little secret: Asahina is referred to under several different names. Above it is Asahina Saburō (朝比奈三郎), but at other times it is Asahina Yoshihide (朝比奈義秀). Don’t forget Asahina Saburō Yoshihide either. Sometimes it is something else entirely. Sometimes it is Kobayashi Asahina. When or if I ever figure out this naming issue you will be among the first to know. However, I do want to point out one thing for anyone researching any Japanese character – real or fictional – make sure you search for information under every possible permutation because if you don’t you will surely miss something somewhere and what you miss may be the stuff you have been looking for. That said, below are two print in the collection of the British Museum – both by Kuniyoshi – showing Asahina Yoshihide holding a piece of Gorō’s armor. They are both promised gifts from Professor Arthur Miller. The fact that they were created about 125 years after the one by Kiyomasu shown above shows the enduring interest in this subject.

A slight variation –

In Japanese prints there is something called a mitate (見立). I wish I could tell you exactly what that is, but I can’t. In some cases it translates as a ‘comparison’. In other cases it is more of metaphor or an allusion to a famous passage in literature or history, etc. Sometimes my ignorance of Japanese culture leaves me scratching my head wondering what in the hell it can possibly mean. Below is a detail from a Kunisada print of two actors. The standing one represents Soga Gorō while the other one playing a female role has taken the place of Asahina, but is wearing a voluminous garment which has it crest. Hence, it relates closely to the scene shown above in the Kiyomasu print. Now if that weren’t confusing enough there is another puzzler here. This image below relates to no known scene ever staged.

Other feats of derring-do

It has already been established that Asahina was inordinately strong (and brave). One account states that he once swam with a shark under each arm. I am still looking for a print version of this tale. If you know of one please contact me. Better yet… if you have an illustration of this act send me a jpeg please. He defeated a group of oni or devil in a neck-wrestling contest. At the battle of Hikkane in 1180 he pulled up a tree and used it as a war club. (Joly is the only one who mentions this.)

In one theatrical scene four samurai try to subdue a wild horse. That is when  Asahina, as the comic hero, appears, lifts the horse and throws it in a sacred river.

© Trustees of the British Museum

The Flying Crane Motif

Late 17th century actors portraying Asahina began wearing the ‘flying crane crest’. This is one of the ways we can know who is being shown in many Japanese prints – our visual clue. Professor Leiter says that in 1698 there was a performance in which the scythe-shaped beard or kamahige (鎌髭) and crane crest appeared for the first time and was repeated from then on. In a footnote to The Japanese Family Storehouse; Or the Millionaires Gospel Modernised by Ihara Saikaku (井原西鶴: 1642-1693) it says: “Asahina Saburō  Yoshihide was a general of the Kamakura period, and in the popular theatre of  Saikaku’s time his kimono were customarily adorned with ‘flying-crane’ crests. In Kiyomizu-dera in Kyōto there was a celebrated votive picture (ema) in which the artist had carelessly painted a ‘flying-crane’ crest across a gap in Asahina’s hakama…”

On the left below is a detail from a Shunshō print created about 100 years later. To the right of that is Kuniyoshi print shown courtesy of the British Museum. It is one of the promised gifts of Professor Arthur Miller. (© Trustees of the British Museum)

Is there a connection? At the beginning of a kabuki play scripted by Mokuami Ashahina’s first words are – stated grandly: “The sacred red-crested crane that lives a thousand years in happiness spreads his wings and flies calmly, joyfully, upward into the sky. Here, today, I, Asahina, welcoming the sacred crane, offer words of congratulations as bounteous heaven’s light to overspread the high minister’s seat.” [He was addressing the lord soon to be attacked by the Soga brothers in revenge for their father’s death.]

The danger of leaping to conclusions: Far be it from me to tell others not to leap too quickly. I do it all the time and have to backtrack and correct my egregious mistakes. However, I never show any shame over these misstatements because that would take up all of my time. I just move on to the next mistakes. Sometimes, I can even step in and prevent others from going down the wrong path. For example,  mistaking crests which look like the flying crane, but aren’t . Below is a detail from a Kuniyoshi print. It shows Hori Ranmaru Nagayasu – actually the historical Mori Ranmaru – wearing that crane-like motif in spades. However, it took one sharp-eyed fellow in Holland to inform me that if I had looked more closely (and carefully) then I would have noticed that the bird in the roundel appears to be an egret. Note the tuft. I am sure he is correct. This image is also shown courtesy of the British Museum and is a promised gift of Professor Arthur Miller.

© Trustees of the British Museum

For those of you who know something about theater…. No… WAIT!
For those of you who know something about kabuki theater…. No… WAIT!
For those of you who know something about prints illustrating kabuki theater…. No… WAIT!

Anyone familiar with kabuki theater must know the iconic image of Kamakura Gongorō Kagemasa (鎌倉権五郎景政) in Shibaraku (暫) as created by the actor Ichikawa Danjurō I. Shibaraku is usually translated as ‘Wait a Minute!’ or ‘Just a Minute!’. “The hero’s entrance in [Shibaraku] remains one of hte great moments in which we may share the pleasure experienced by Edo spectators. As he enters on… wearing on of kabuki’s most memorable costumes and wigs… all eyes are riveted with excited anticipation on his awesome presence.” It is that costume that is displayed below in several variations. But what most people don’t know and which is laid out in the introduction to a translation of one version of this play is that “The earliest play containing elements of Just a Minute! was the The Great Ledger Book of Asahina’s Hundred Stories (Daifukuchō Asahina Hyaku Monogatari), in which the meaning of a certain ledger is explained.” Danjurō I wrote this play and five years later acted in the first performance of Wait a Moment! By 1714 the hero of The Nation’s Great Ledger became Kamakura no Gongorō Kagemasa and the name stuck.

To the left is Ashikuni’s version of an Ichikawa actor in the role of Gongorō Kagemasa. Below is one of many images created by Kunisada of that same character, but this one portraying Ichikawa Ebizō V from the late 1830s.Notice the white paper ‘wings’ attached to the wigs of both men. These are called chikaragami and are referenced further down the page.

When does a superhero like Asahina start playing it for laughs? How and why did he become a comic figure?

I don’t know, but as soon as I find out I will let you in on it. In 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger played the Terminator. As I recall in one scene he ripped the heart from the chest of a man and showed it to him before the man could die. In 1988 he played opposite Danny DeVito in Twins. Two years after that he starred in Kindergarten Cop. To be fair, I didn’t see the last two films, but I am not sure I needed to.  Both Asahina and Schwarzenegger have performed as action heros. And both have gone the other route. The difference? Schwarzenegger got to choose his roles, Asahina didn’t.

Detail from a Sadahide print of Asahina and his hobbyhorse or haru goma (春駒). He is holding one end of a scroll which shows the creatures associated with signs of the zodiac. The one closest to him is the boar.

Asahina’s transformation is summarized quite succinctly on page 28 of  the first volume of Kabuki Plays on Stage: “Asahina is a figure of fascinating contrasts. His purpose is a delicate and sensitive one, yet he is costumed and speaks and moves as a bombastic buffoon. With his ‘monkey makeup’ (saru guma) of silly-looking horizontal forehead stripes and huge handlebar mustache and winglike ‘power paper’ (chikaragami) protruding from his headdress, Asahina’s appearance is unforgettable.” His appearance may be outré, but his role is often serious.

Professor Leiter discusses warumi (悪身) in his Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theatre. A brief section in which “…a man behaves in an overtly effeminate manner.” One such example is that of Asahina in Kusazuri biki.

There is a Kunisada print in the British Museum of Asahina with his saru guma (猿隈: literally, ‘monkey shadows’ ), chikaragami (力紙) and his flying crane crest. This clearly falls withing the group of images meant to evoke a humorous reaction from the viewer. Professor Leiter tells us that saru guma is also called asahina no guma. It was first worn by Nakamura Denkurō I “…who made his face up in this style when playing Asahina in 1690 at the Nakamura-za. Three lines are drawn vertically across the simian forehead, and a curve is drawn downward and up again past the eyes to the cheeks.” Notice that Asahina is holding a mirror in his right hand while looking left. I mention that because a mirror plays an important role in a slightly older print shown 2 images down.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Is Asahina primping for a date or…

is this an actor getting ready for a stage performance? It is the latter. The point: By showing you this particular detail from a print by Shunkō and all of the other portrayals of Asahina on this page I am trying to emphasize the enormous range of images used by Japanese artists to portray this semi-historical/possibly-mythical figure. I am sure you get my point.

Before guys were dreaming of Jeannie there was Asahina –

The image to the left is my modified version of a Toyokuni I print from the early 19th century in which an actor is either dreaming about a role he wants to play or one he already performed. Of course, that is my interpretation, but, for now, I will stand by it. It is an interesting concept, the idea of presenting a dream in print form. In fact, it probably could be counted as a sub-genre among ukiyo prints. A very small sub-genre, but one used by quite a few different artists. What’s amazes me is how ‘modern’ it is by foreshadowing our 20th century comics where it was and is used in abundance. Were Japanese prints a model for our contemporaries? Maybe. Maybe not. The ‘not’ part comes from the fact that artists – mostly anonymous – in 13th and 14th century Europe – often in illuminated manuscript form – had similar ways of presenting their own dream sequences.

Come to think of it… in principle, this kind of imagery goes back a lot farther than the dream/daydream bubble. There is a whole host of  ancient sculptures of Buddhas surrounded by small scenes from their earthly or previous existence(s) like being born out of the side of one’s mother or being bathed by a multi-headed naga. That is the joy of artistic representation. If you can think it you can produce it – like an actor dreaming of playing Asahina (before an adoring crowd), for example.

Happy New Year!

In many ways Asahina and New Year celebrations went hand in hand. Of course this wasn’t always true, but it did come to be a significant culture phenomenon for a very long time. Every New Year – and remember that traditionally the Japanese New Year was not the same as that in the West – there were new plays about the Soga brothers and naturally these included Asahina in one type of role or another. “At New Year’s, Soga plays were performed annually at all three Edo theaters. This tradition lasted for well over a century.” Another Edo period tradition from the 18th into the 19th century was the production and gift-giving of surimonos – a special kind of woodblock print often associated with poetry clubs and produced outside the censorship rules since they were never meant for commercial distribution.

The image to the left is one such surimono by Toyohiro (豊広: 1773-1828), but one I altered. I excised the printed poem on the right side and inserted the deep pink background. (The original had delicate pink plum flowers, but these had faded so badly as to be almost non-existent.) Roger Keyes notes in The Male Journey in Japanese Prints that Toyohiro produced annually at least 25 consecutive Asahina surimonos for the writer Sakuragawa Jihinarit to hand out to friends and colleagues.

Like the example above, this one with a yellow ground has been altered. No poem, no faded blossoms. Other than that it is another one in the Toyohiro series, but this one with long-tailed tortoises.

Go to Hell Asahina

In a 1916 sale catalogue it says: [Asahina] “…went to Hades and ‘after browbeating the old hag of the three roads’ was entertained by the king, Yemma O.” Below is a detail from a print by Yoshitoshi showing Asahina embroiled in a fight surrounded by hell-demons. Behind him is the karmic mirror of hell which reflects truly the events of every souls life.

There is a farcical Japanese play entitled Asahina in which Emma-Ō (閻魔王), the overlord of Hell, leaves his realm and travels the highways and byways of our world in search of souls to drag back with him. He does this because too many people are being saved by religious zeal and therefore traffic has fallen off in Hell. In his travels Emma-Ō encounters Asahina. There is a battle between the two of them and Asahina comes out the winner. As a result Emma-Ō is forced to carry our hero’s weapons and to guide him to heaven.

James Michener in his book The Floating World referred to Asahina as “…the man who conquered hell.”

So, what else does a fun-loving superhero do when visiting hell? Play games, that’s what. Below is a detail from a Kuniyoshi print showing Asahina in a casual face-off with Emma-Ō. After a casual repast – or is it before? – or is it repast-interruptus? – Asahina and the King of Hell play a friendly game of ken (拳), the Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors. (At least, I think it is a friendly game of ken. Not sure for sure.)

What is the point of going to Hell if you aren’t going to have a little fun while you’re there?

There are two images in the collection of the British Museum showing Asahina in a competition with a demon who is trying with all its might to pull an iron rod from between the toes of our superhero. If only I knew more about this story, but, sadly, for now, all I can do is show you the images courtesy of the British Museum. The first one is by Kiyonaga (清長) and has a theatrical connection. The second one is by Hokkei (北渓) – and it too is theatrical, but the connection is more tenuous. Both are probably related somehow to New Year’s festivities.

© Trustees of the British Museum – for both of these images shown above

Coincidentally, I used to pick up smallish objects from the floor using my toes, but that is about it. Then there is always that movie, My Left Foot, but that, too, is another story.

The Colossus of Rhodes and its Japanese adaptation

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was the Colossus of Rhodes. Somehow images – probably engravings – of this statue made there way into Japan and initially were ‘copied’ by at least two artists into woodblock print forms. One was Kuninaga (國長) who died in 1829 and the other was Kunitora (国虎: ca. 1804-30). [The dates provided for Kunitora are from Basil Stewart first published in 1922. I don’t quite trust his information, but it is probably close to the mark. Stewart says that Kuninaga died around 1820 while almost all other sources say 1829. But that is not really the issue: The issue is we don’t know much about these two artists and that is something we should keep in mind when looking at their prints.]

To the left is a large detail from a print of what Kuninaga must have imagined the Colossus of Rhodes to have looked like.

Above is a detail of Kunitora’s version.

While I don’t know the exact European source of these images they are similar to that produced by Maerten van Heemskerck’s (ヒームスケルク: 1498-1574) engraving. Note that the original was not colored as in the example shown below.

Surely Sadahide knew the two earlier Japanese prints of the Colossus of Rhodes when he produced his version of Asahina visiting the Land of Dwarves. (This was actually an illustration to Japanese language Swiftian-style  novel from 1860 about the foreign travels of Asahina. We sorely need a good English translation of this fantastic work – unless, of course there already is one and I have missed it.) Below is a large detail from Sadahide’s triptych. It is difficult to see it clearly, but a crane decorates the front end of the pipe Ashahina is holding in his left hand. One of these birds also appears on his robes. The pipe replaces the smoke-producing urn/torch found in the three previous examples.

Long before there were Playboy (or Playgirl) centerfolds there was…

Kuniyoshi triptych – Burt Reynolds eat your heart out.

What became of the croc, the croc, the croc…?

The year is 1200 and Asahina has accompanied the shogun to Kotusbo beach at Kamakura. At one point Asahina rides his horse into the sea, but is startled when a crocodile bites on of the legs of this steed. Our hero jumps into the water, submerges and reappears with two of the monsters under each arm – a variation on the shark theme mentioned above. Below is a triptych from the Arthur Miller collection promised to the British Museum. Timothy Clark wrote: “It might be objected that crocodiles (wani) do not live in the sea and have legs, not flippers, but that does noting to diminish Kuniyoshi’s achievement in creating a stirring and memorable scene of combat between strongman and beast.”

© Trustees of the British Museum

For more information about Japanese prints and culture please visit my other web site at


  1. You are a complete idiot. Gozen Tomoe existed and this is well-documented in the literature of the period. Furthermore, her tomb exists and is well-marked.

    In fact, prior to the Tokugawa Shogunate, which relegated the position of women, female leaders and female samurai were not usual. The general consensus among modern historians concludes that Empress Suiko, for example, was not simply a figurehead. Likewise, Hojo Masako exerted true power although the Tokugawa legacy accounts ascribe authority to he regent uncle.

    Perhaps the most telling account of the female samurai’s role in pre-Meiji Japan can be found in the autobiography of Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, “Daughter of the Samurai”. I suggest you read it.

    Comment by Katsumaru Reia — December 20, 2011 @ 9:53 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment. You aren’t telling me something I didn’t already know about myself. However, I did try to qualify my comments and you will see that if you reread this post one more time.

      I tried writing you back at your e-mail address, but got a message that it was undeliverable. I asked if you could help me locate and image of Tomoe Gozen’s tomb which I could post. Any help will be appreciated.

      Thanks again.


      Jerry V.

      Comment by vegder — December 20, 2011 @ 11:36 am | Reply

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