Vegder's Blog

May 24, 2020

A Wondrous Minamoto Clan Crest – the Sasarindō (笹竜胆)

Mark Griffiths wrote in The Lotus Quest: In Search of the Sacred Flower: “The personal, rather than clan mon of Minamoto no Yoritomo was the sasarindō, a design in which three flowers of rindō (the Japanese gentian, Gentiana scabra or G. makinoi) sit above three leaves of the shrubby bamboo Sasa. The gentian was characteristic of the damp grassland flora of Southern Japan, while the bamboo was a signature plant of the North. This elegant posy is iconographic code for the shogun: the North is subjugated by the South; the country united under his military authority.”

It has been more than a year and a half since I have added a post to this web log. Not because I have been lazy. I haven’t been. It has been mainly because I have devoted nearly all of my time to cataloging the Lyon Collection of Japanese woodblock prints, a rich personal expression of a love of traditional ukiyo-e and so much more. Well worth a visit when you get a chance.

A gentian りんどう (竜胆) from

While digging deep and deeper into the weeds of Japanese print studies I ran across that quote by Mark Griffiths at the top of this page. That is when I had another ‘aha’ moment. Considering that I am generally working ‘bass-akward’ – a genuine term defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “in a backward or inept way” – it was not surprising that suddenly I realized that a lot of prints in the Lyon Collection and elsewhere displayed the sasarindō, sometimes with an in-your-face intensity to an incredibly, infinitesimally small bet-you-can’t-find-it-without-developing-a-headache near invisibility. A little larger than your usual run-of-the-mill needle in a haystack, but just barely. That is when I decided it was time to add a new post and I am really glad I did.

The Sasa nipponica posted online by

For now, I will be adding a bunch of spectacular images and will fill in the text along with explanations later.

Yoshikuni print from 1822 of Arashi Kitsusaburō II as Minamoto Yorimasa
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Kunisada surimono of Ichikawa Danjuro VII as one of the Minamoto clan –
but which one I don’t know.
Harvard Museums of Art

I was gobsmacked when I first saw this print. For me it is so strikingly beautiful that words fail. In an attempt to find out more information about this print I ran across a totally unsuspected web site in India. As it turns out this print was chosen as the cover illustration to a catalogue entitled “surimono in india”. Good choice. By the way, I am not easily gobsmacked.

1795 Toyokuni I print of Ichikawa Yaozō III as Jirō Kamata (鎌田次郎),
Minamoto Yoshitsune’s chief vassal
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Minamoto no Yoritomo and the cranes – 

Yashima Gakutei (八島岳亭) surimono from ca. 1821
Minamoto no Yoritomo releasing cranes tagged with golden cards
Harvard Art Museums

Daan Kok wrote in Reading Surimono: The interplay of text and image in Japapnese prints: “The scene depicted here is of Yoritomo’s releasing cranes in honour of his elder brother Tomonaga, who died young. This practice of releasing animals derives from a Buddhist ceremony called hōjō-e, originally conducted to ask forgiveness for the killing of animals.”

The British Museum also owns a copy of this print and refers to it as “Minamoto no Yoritomo,with an attendant,watching cranes on plain of Akanuma-ga-hara.” Perhaps Akanuma-ga-hara and Yuigahama are one in the same. I’ll check on this and get back to you later.

There is a triptych in the British Museum of the releasing of the cranes by Yoritomo at Yuigahama (由比ガ浜) near Kamakura said to be by Kitao Shigemasa (北尾重政: 1739-1820). Other sources list it as anonymous because it is unsigned. However, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston attribute their copy to Kitao Masayoshi. Personally, it doesn’t matter all that much here because two of the panels, the middle and right-hand, show two of Yoritomo’s younger step-brothers, both of whom are wearing robes decorated with the sasarindō crest and that is what I care about. Below are those two prints.

Center panel from a triptych showing
Noriyori (範頼) at the releasing of the cranes.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Right-hand panel showing Yoshitsune.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Mitate of Yoritomo releasing the cranes by Utamaro in 1805
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

What it looks like at Yuigahama today!
Image posted at Wikimedia commons

Ushiwakamaru learns to the art of fighting from the tengu –

Ushiwakamaru learning the secrets of combat from the tengu king Sōjōbō
Designed by Yanagawa Shigenobu I
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Detail of a surimono by Zeshin and Kuniyoshi. The full image is posted at my
very first post from about 11 years ago, the one on gourds. Also showing
Ushiwakamaru with the tengu king.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Ushiwakamaru, the flute and the encounter with Benkei on Gojō Bridge

Kunisada’s 1811 diptych of Ushiwakamaru facing off for a smack down with Benkei on Gojō Bridge
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The young Onzōshi Ushiwaka (御曹子牛若) frustrating the intentions of the warrior
Musashibō Benkei ( 武蔵坊弁慶) on Gojō Bridge (五条橋) by Toyokuni III in 1857
Lyon Collection

Yoshitora print of Ushiwakamaru playing his flute
from the early to mid 1840s
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Here is the title exactly as it appears at the MFA web site: “Onzôshi Ushiwakamaru, Ninth Son (Kyûnan) of Minamoto Yoshitomo, Later (nochi ni) Minamoto Kurô Hangan Yoshitsune, from Onzôshi Ushiwakamaru, Ninth Son (Kyûnan) of Minamoto Yoshitomo, Later (nochi ni) Minamoto Kurô Hangan Yoshitsune, from the series An Array of Youthful Heroes (Osanadachi buyû zoroe)the series An Array of Youthful Heroes (Osanadachi buyû zoroe).”

Sometimes Ushiwakamaru and his flute is just that, Ushiwakamaru and his flute –

Hokusai surimono
Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna

Ushiwakamaru, his flute, and Jōruri-hime… and those damned mitate prints

Why do I curse that ubiquitous category of Japanese ukiyo prints known as mitate? Why couldn’t I have shown better judgement in my choice of words? Why? Why? Why? Why didn’t I refer to them as those ‘darned mitate prints’? Well, I’ll try to tell you why: there is no plain and easy path to understanding that irksome term ‘mitate‘. Oh the books and the dealers and the museum labels will usually take the easy way out  and tell you that it means it is a parody of something else. But is it? Is it always that simple? No!!!!! No! No! No! A thousand times ‘No!’ Mitate can mean one of any number of things and by blithely referring to it as a parody sends droves of interested parties down the wrong path never to fully grasp the subtleties of what the artist and the publisher were getting at. Suffice it to say, I will leave it at that. If you want me to explain my diatribe any more clearly, then write to me and I will try to make myself clearer. Let’s leave it at that for now and move on.

Below is a mitate – yes I said it because that is what it is – based on the story of Ushiwakamaru as a young man who is smitten with Princess Jōruri. Except here Ushiwakamaru is replaced in his role of the handsome suitor by a beautiful young courtesan, clearly of sophisticated tastes. Note that she is even wearing robes decorated with the Minamoto family crest, the sasarindō. All will become clearer soon with another posted image below this. Stay tuned. I will get to it in due time.

The Eighth Month: Moon Viewing by Toyokuni I
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The curatorial files for this print note: “Left sheet of incomplete triptych, with title on right sheet. A gender-reversed parody of the story of Ushiwaka and Joruri-hime.”

Yoshitoshi print, the middle panel of a triptych, from 1867
showing Sawamura Tosshō II as Minamoto no Yoshitsune.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Kuniyoshi of Asahina Yoshihide fighting with crocodiles
Minamoto no Yoriie is looking on at Kotsubo
Lyon Collection

Yoshikazu triptych of Yoshitsune and his nineteen retainers
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Yoshitsuya- middle and left panel of a triptych showing Yoshitsune and Nineteen Retainers
(Yoshitsune jûku shin – 義経十九臣)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Yoshitsuya triptych of the Battle of Takadachi in 1187
when the White Dragon ascended to heaven in the presence of Yoshitsune.
The sasarindō appears twice on this composition.
Lyon Collection

1858 Yoshitsuya triptych of Yorimitsu investigating a
mysterious white cloud in the Ashigara Mountains.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



As usual I am just starting out and will fill in more ‘information’ as it becomes available or is made clear to me. So, come back often and watch what I have tried to do. I will try to put flesh on this bare bones. I just hope it is the right flesh. Wish me luck and never take anything I say for gospel, because it isn’t. We all live in ignorance. You are now properly forewarned. Tra la…

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