YOSHITOSHI Tsukioka (1839-92)
Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (–F”NŒŽ‰ª) was a pupil of Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Often
characterized as the last great master of the ukiyo-e print, Yoshitoshi's images ranged from the agitated and violent to the
silent and tranquil. Among his special skills was the ability to revitalize the legends, histories, traditions, and customs of
Japan's recent and distant past.
Yoshitoshi's final series of prints was his Shinkei sanjûrokkaisen ("New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts"), first
published by Sasaki Toyokichi between April 1889 and July 1892. As Yoshitoshi became ill and would die before the last three designs
of the set were published, he might have been assisted near the end by his students Toshikata (1866-1908) and Toshihide (1863-1925),
but the extent of their involvement is unknown. Except for at least one design (see Oniwakamaru below),
the title cartouches in the prints from the first edition have three colors, distinguishing them from later impressions bearing
only two colors in the cartouches. Even early impressions differ in the particular three colors chosen for the cartouches; for
example, the pink-blue-yellow scheme in the figure on the left was changed to pink-blue-violet in some printings. A similar
situation exists for later editions — impressions are known in both pink-yellow and pink-green cartouche printings. All
the prints have black cartouches with the series title left unprinted in white reserve (possibly suggestive of funerary script).
The rough edges of the borders represent an artistic convention for antique, insect-eaten paper edges.
Early and Later Editions ("Original")
Early impression: 3-color cartouche /
subtle shading for translucent ghost
Later impression: 2-color cartouche /
dark shading (less translucent effect)
The images above illustrate what is probably the most poignant design from the series, Sarayashiki Okiku no rei ("The
Ghost of Okiku at the Dish Mansion"), engraved by Chokusan and first published in the eighth month of 1890. The tale
is one of the best known of all Japanese ghost stories, but it varies in the details depending on the source of the story.
In one version Okiku was a maid in the service of Aoyama Tessan, a high-ranking retainer of the child shogun Tokugawa Ietsugu
(1709-16). When his wife breaks one of ten valuable Delft porcelain dishes entrusted to the family for safekeeping by Dutch
merchants, she throws the pieces into a well to hide her guilt and accuses Okiku, who in her shame drowns herself in the well.
Thereafter her ghost counts aloud from one to nine, then lets out a terrible wail. Ultimately, a family friend is enlisted to
help, and one night, just as the Ghost reaches "nine," he loudly says "ten," and the ghost never
returns to the well. An alternate version based on the kabuki play Bancho Sarayashiki ("The Dish Mansion at Bancho")
has Aoymama trying to seduce Okiku by stealing one of the dishes and threatening her with blame unless she acquiesces. She
drowns herself and haunts the well as in the earlier version. Yoshitoshi's portrayal of Okiku is unusually sympathetic,
particularly as ghosts were viewed as fearsome apparitions by nineteenth-century Japanese.
The quality of the printing in the image at the top left is superb, executed with subtle gradations and shadings to depict
the translucent form of a ghost. Note especially the lower part of Okiku's figure, which fades into nothingness. She has no
feet (a characteristic of all ghosts), and the well can be seen through her ethereal aspect. The impression in the figure
above right illustrates the loss of subtlety that is so often the case with later printings of ukiyo-e designs. The shading
is cruder and darker, as well as more uniform and less gradated, which gives Okiku's form more substance and contradicts
Yoshitoshi's intention to effectively depict Okiku's translucent ghost.
dated 1/4/1902 at top right of
(lower left margin)
insatsu (Printed Meiji
35, 4th mo., 1st day)
The entire series of "Thirty-Six Ghosts" was republished after Yoshitoshi's death by Matsuki Heikichi in February-March 1902, who sold the prints as complete sets. The colors were sometimes different from the first or lifetime editions, and the publishing dates were changed in the margins. An example of a print from the republished set is shown above, titled Oniwakamaru chichu ni rigyo o ukagau zu ("Picture of Oniwakamaru Observing the Great Carp in the Pool").
No impressions — original or posthumous — are known of this design with tricolor cartouches. The original edition was published on October 20, 1889; it was carved by Horiyû. Early impressions use softer bands of blue that intersect near the rock (see image at immediate left). Later lifetime printings can be distinguished by the few wide strokes of blue in the water. The posthumous impression is well done, but it lacks the subtlety of the earlier impressions.
The scene depicts the legendary warrior-priest Musashibô Benkei, retainer of Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-89), the celebrated military genuis and half-brother of the shogun. Benkei was known as a boy by the name Oniwakamaru ("Young Devil Child"). He is shown preparing to attack a giant carp swimming at the foot of the Bishamon waterfall. The monster fish had devoured his mother and Benkei would exact his revenge. ©1999-2001 by John Fiorillo
- Ing, Eric van den & Schaap, Robert: Beauty and Violence: Japanese Prints by Yoshitoshi 1839-1892. Eindhoven &
Bergeyk: Haviland Press & The Society for Japanese Arts, 1992, pp. 88-89 & 141-143.
- Keyes, Roger & Kuwayama, George: The Bizarre Imagery of Yoshitoshi: The Herbert R. Cole Collection. Los Angeles: The
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1980, pp. 80-81, fig. 42.
- Keyes, Roger: Courage and Silence: A Study of the Life and Color Woodblock Prints of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: 1839-1892.
(Volumes 1 and 2). [Doctoral Dissertation]. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms. 1983, pp. 488-91.
- Segi, Sinichi: Yoshitoshi: The Splendid Decadent. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1985, pp. 76-78 & 141-144; fig. 44.
- Stevenson, John: Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. Redmond, WA: San Francisco Graphic Society, 1992.
- Stevenson, John: Yoshitoshi's Thirty-Six Ghosts. New York & Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1983, pp. 32-33 & 52-53;
plates VII & XVII.
- Stevenson, John: Yoshitoshi's Women: The Woodblock-Print Series Fûzoku Sanjûnisô. Seattle: University
of Washington Press, 1995 (revised edition).