Member's Pick February

Saturday 27 March 2021

Member's Pick February

Every month a member of our Society will show one of his or her favourite Japanese artworks. This month a print selected by SJA member Josha Sietsma.


Minamoto no Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune) battling with the brigand Kumasaka Chōhan
by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92)

The story behind Sietsma's choice for this ukiyo-e print packed with action: 
'Since starting teaching classical Japanese literature for high school students I’ve been fascinated by both the Heike monogatari (The tale of the Heike) and Gikeiki (The chronicle of Yoshitsune). The latter is my favorite: it tells the personal life of Yoshitsune (1159-89), also known as Minamoto no Ushiwakamaru (his childhood name). So when I came across this print in a gallery and the owner explained the story behind it, I was immediately taken.

The small and nimble Ushiwakamaru, having been trained by the king of the tengu Sōjōbō, vanquishes the brigand leader Kumasaka Chōhan, the master of martial arts! Usually this scene is spread out over two or three sheets, but here Yoshitoshi compresses all the action in a single ōban sheet. The colours are the typical vibrant pigments of the Meiji period adding to the sense of motion. Every time I look at this print I’m reminded of the original reason why I started learning Japanese: to eventually make a Dutch translation of the Gikeiki. This would make the fabulous exploits of Yoshitsune accessible to my Dutch students who don’t read Japanese. Bumping into the story of Yoshitsune was maybe for me the most important literary event of the last six years. And this print serves as a constant reminder of that moment.'

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 月岡芳年, 1839-92, Minamoto no Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune) battling with the brigand Kumasaka Chōhan. From the series: Yoshitoshi’s courageous Warriors (Yoshitoshi musha burui) ōban [25x38cm], published in 1883.

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