The Edo/Tokyo artist Toyohara Chikanobu ((豊原周延 1838–1912; frequently Yôshû Chikanobu 楊洲周延 and real name Hashimoto Naoyoshi 橋本直義) was the son of a low-level retainer named Hashimoto Naohiro (died 1879) of the Sakakibara family, whose ancestry included military governors or daimyô (大名) of the Takeda domain in Echigo Province. As was common for members of his class, Chikanobu had training in Kanô-school painting, but he preferred ukiyo-e. He might have begun his print studies with a disciple of Keisai Eisen (渓斎英泉 1790-1848). Regardless, he joined the studio of Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi (歌川國芳 1798-1861) around 1852. After Kuniyoshi's death, he studied with Utagawa Kunisada (歌川國貞 1786-1865), sometimes signing as Yôshû (楊洲). Finally, around 1862, Chikanobu had some instruction with Toyohara Kunichika (豊原國周 1835-1900), focusing on actor portraiture.
Chikanobu was a print designer with a most unusual personal history, given that, like his father, he was also a retainer of the Sakakibara clan. As a Tokugawa loyalist, he fought for the shogunate as a member of an elite force called the Shôgitai (彰義隊, Battalion to Demonstrate Righteousness) in the Battle of Ueno (Ueno Sensô: 上野戦争) on July 4, 1868 and in the Battle of Hakodate (Hakodate Sensô: 函館戦争) from December 4, 1868 to June 27, 1869. Contemporary accounts indicate that he conducted himself bravely and honorably. Chikanobu was captured by the government forces, but spared from execution by Kirino Toshiaki (桐野利秋 1838-1877), a lieutenant for the leader of the Imperial forces, Saigô Takamori (西鄕隆盛 1828-1877), after Toshiaki was told that Chikanobu was a print artist. The Hakodate conflict was the last stage in the armed rebellion called the Boshin War (Boshin Sensô: 戊辰戦争) between shogunate and imperial armies. Following the Shôgitai's surrender, he was remanded along with others to the authorities in the Takada domain. In 1875, he traveled to Tokyo and found work as an illustrator for the Kaishin Shinbun (Progressive Newspaper 改進新聞). At the same time, he produced woodblock prints in the late ukiyo-e style.
Once established, Chikanobu created print designs on many themes. Among his sixty or so series, foremost were many bijinga (美人画 pictures of beautiful women). Other popular subjects included various triptychs depicting sensô-e (戦争絵 pictures of war or warrior prints), such as notable figures and events from the Boshin War (Boshin sensô: 戊辰戦争 1868-69), the Satsuma Rebellion (Seinan Sensô: 西南戦争 1877), the Jingo Incident Korea (Jingo Jihen: 壬午事変 1882), the Sino-Japanese War (Nisshin sensô: 日清戦争 1894–95), and the Russo-Japanese War (Nichiro sensô: 日露戦争 1904-05), the last subject representing nearly the last of Chikanobu's works.
A late series by Chikanobu typifies his development as a designer of bijinga — 36 depictions of modern women in Shin bijin (True Beauties: 真美人), 1897-1898, published by Akiyama Buemon (秋山武右衛門) in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. One example (shown at the top of this page) portrays a young woman holding a Western-style parasol and a book bound in the Occidental manner. She is likely a student of higher learning, a female figure of increasing familiarity in urban Japan by the end of the nineteenth century. She wears a hybrid mix of clothing: a Japanese floral-patterned kimono and obi (sash: 帯) over a Western-style pink plaid dress. On her left hand we see a ring (engagement?), also a custom of the West. She appears confident, and her face, while owing something to certain physiognomic "types" drawn a century earlier by Kitagawa Utamaro, is indicative of ideas of youth and beauty during the denouement of ukiyo-e at the turn of the twentieth century.
The triptych shown immediately above portrays, on the left sheet, the iconic hero of the Satsuma Rebellion, Saigô Takamori (西郷隆盛 1828-1877) riding his horse into battle against government forces. Although once an ally of the Meiji emperor and government, Saigô ran afoul of the majority when he insisted that Japan should go to war with Korea in 1873 due to Korea's refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Emperor Meiji as head of state of the Empire of Japan. Saigô resigned from all of his government positions in protest and returned to his hometown of Kagoshima. A private military academy was established in Kagoshima for the faithful samurai who had also resigned their posts to follow Saigô from Tokyo. The so-called Satsuma Rebellion ensued. Although dismayed by the revolt, Saigô was reluctantly persuaded to lead the rebels against the central government with its overwhelming forces numbering around 300,000. By their last stand during the Battle of Shiroyama (Shiroyama no tatakai: 城山の戦い), the Satsuma rebels numbered a mere 400 men. During the battle, Saigô was badly injured. His death came after complications from a bullet wound in his hip, or from seppuku (ritual suicide: 切腹) after being shot. Either way, he seems to have been decapitated by his men who wanted to grant their fallen leader a symbolically honorable death rather than see him surrender or be captured. With Saigô's death the Satsuma Rebellion came to an end. For his exploits, Saigô has been dubbed the "last true samurai."
Other subjects in Chikanobu's oeuvre included historical scenes, kabuki, famous places (meisho 名所絵), current events, portrayals of the emperor, and pasttimes of women. As a late master of bijinga, he produced numerous images and series of beauties in single sheets, diptychs, and triptychs. Chikanobu also provided illustrations for newspapers, as well as paintings and designs for illustrated books. The triptych shown below represents a typical vision of Emperor Meiji (Meiji-tennô, 明治天皇, 1867-1912) for Chikanobu and other ukiyo-e artists of the period. Chikanobu shows the imperial family surrounded by the accoutrements of Western culture, including gilt-chairs, a luxurious tablecoth, and Victorian-style dress for the Empress Masako Ichijô (一条勝子 1849-1914, Empress Shôken, 昭憲皇后) and Western-style military uniforms for the emperor and Crown Prince (Haru-no-Miya: 東の宮) Yoshihito (嘉仁 1879–1926). Yoshihito would ascend to the throne as the Taishô Emperor (Taishô tennô: 大正天皇) in 1912, but he suffered from neurological problems and learning disabilities, and his responsibilities were usually delegated to regents. Works such as Chikanobu's triptych were not only welcome portrayals of the Imperial family, but also, as the title of the print ("A Mirror of Japan’s Nobility") suggests, a form of propaganda aimed to promote the cultural authority of the newly established emperor as the head of state.
There were as well several large series, such as the fifty-print Setsugekka (Snow, Moon, Flowers: 雪月花) published by Kobayashi Tetsujirô (小林鉄次郎 1848-93) featuring many themes, with nearly every sheet focused on women who were often drawn in a style that seemed to provide a bridge between Edo-period bijinga of the Utagawa school and Meiji-period bijinga by artists such as Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年 1839-1892). Another group of fifty prints was issued by the same publisher in 1886, titled Azuma nishiki chûya kurabe (Eastern Brocades, Day and Night Compared: 東錦昼夜競) through which Chikanobu explored his (and his audience's) unwavering fascination with historical figures and warriors of great renown. Late in his printmaking career, there were the series Chiyoda no Ôoku (Chiyoda, Inner Palace: 千代田の大奥), with about 40 designs from 1894 to 1896, and Chiyoda no on-omote (Chiyoda, Outer Precincts of the Palace: 千代田の御表), with around 32 scenes from 1897. Both sets of triptychs were published by Fukuda Hatsujirô (福田初二郎).
One of Chikanobu's many designs for the Chiyoda Palace sets is shown above. Titled Hotaru-gari ("Catching fireflies": 蛍狩り), it offers an idealized view of the priveleged inhabitants of the palace. The youngest girl, on the far left, scampers after the fireflies, using her fan to force the insects toward her older companion at the far right. The young-adult beauty waits patiently, holding open a small door to an red-lacquer insect cage. The social status of these charming figures is signaled by the fine garments and hair styles, and more specifically by the furisode ("swinging sleeves": 振袖) or long-sleeved kimono worn by children and unmarried young girls. The Chiyoda Ôoku was located in the main compound of Edo Castle next to the Tower. The southwest section of the castle grounds was an open space with a pond garden and a flat assembly area. However, the inner palace was destroyed by fire in 1863. Chikanobu's palace designs were focused on providing glimpses into the leisure world of the shogun's castle and its private quarters during the late Edo period. So, once again, the artist looked back at life before the Meiji Restoration. The particulars of Chikanobu's prints do not necessarily represent strictly factual visualizations, as he was very unlikely to have ever seen the Chiyoda no Ôoku. Rather, he might have relied on news reports and interviews of former inhabitants that were published in newspapers and books during the 1890s, as well as his own familiarity with late-Edo-period manners and customs. The two Chiyoda series were very popular when they were published; the Chiyoda no Ôoku set was cited in an obituary for Chikanobu in the Miyako Shinbun (Capital City Newspaper: 都新聞) on October 2, 1912.
The triptych shown immediately above depicts a scene from the kabuki play Honchô nijûshikô (Twenty-four filial paragons of the empire: 本朝廿四孝), which premiered for bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽) in 1766 at the Takemoto Theater, Osaka. The drama features complex intrigues involving the Takeda and Uesugi (Nagao) clans after the fictional assassination of the shôgun Ashikaga Yoshiteru (足利 義輝, 1536-65) — the real Yoshiteru committed suicide after losing a battle to Miyoshi Yoshitsugu (三好 義継, 1549-73). The play focuses on a rivalry of the warriors Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, whose fight at Kawanakajima is a well-known historical incident. Princess Yaegaki, daughter of the warrior Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo, is engaged to Takeda Katsuyori, son of Takeda Shingen of Kai. Their union was arranged through the intervention of the Ashikaga shôgun, although the families of Kenshin and Shingen were feuding. When the shôgun is assassinated, suspicion falls on both families. Katsuyori tries to find the murderer but fails and appears to die. Yaegaki is grief-stricken, but then discovers that Katsuyori is still alive. Her father Kenshin, however, also learns that Katsuyori survives and sends an assassin to murder him. Yaegaki tries to warn Katsuyori, but she cannot travel faster than the assassin nor cross frozen Suwa lake to reach Katsuyori. Desperate, she hopes to gain deliverance with a precious heirloom helmet (she is holding it in Chikanobu's print). In the play's most famous scene, Yaegaki prays before the heavy helmet for Katsuyori's safety, whereupon it miraculously loses almost all its weight, enabling her to carry it as though transfixed. When she stands on a bridge by the garden pond, she notices a fox's reflection, signifying that a fox spirit is aiding her. As she places the helmet on her head, kitsunebi (fox fires: 狐火) suddenly appear. She finally crosses the frozen lake along a safe path used by foxes and is able to warn Katsuyori. The conflict ends with the seppuku (ritual suicide: 切腹) of the assassin and the reconciliation of the Takeda and Nagao clans. Chikanobu has captured the eerie sense of the supernatural, with Princess Yaegaki, adorned in brilliant robes, floating above the icy lake, accompanied by twenty-six kitsunebi. The two rivals, Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, are drawn in a more down-to-earth manner and positioned at the opposing ends of the composition.
Note: There was an earlier Toyohara Chikanobu (popular name Toriyama Shinji) who used the art pseudonym Ichiôsai (一鶯齋). He was a minor artist of the Hasegawa school working in the Kanô style of painting who also designed actor portraits for hagoita (battledores: 羽子板) and happened to teach Toyohara Kunichika in his early years (around 11 or 12 years of age). Kunichika, in turn, taught the later Toyohara (Yôshû) Chikanobu, the subject of the present essay. Thus, the earlier Ichiôsai Chikanobu was the source of the Toyohara art name for both Kunichika and Yôshû Chikanobu.
Toyohara Chikanobu's names/signatures/seals
Personal name (jinmei):
Art Names (geimei):
Art pseudonyms (gô):
Pupils of Toyohara Chikanobu
Watanabe Nobukazu (渡辺延一 1872-1944)
© 2021 by John Fiorillo