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Benkei Musashibo - 1155-1189

Item # 34912 - Battle of Gojo Bridge - Benkei and Ushiwaka - Sold for $300 - 11/19/2008
Famous fight between Ushiwakamaru (Later, known as Minamoto Yoshitsune: Played by kabuki actor Onoe Kikugoro) and Benkei (left: played by Ichikawa Sadanji) on Gojo Bridge. Asides from the scenes in the military affairs in Meiji era, or in kabuki plays, Chikanobu seldom produced traditional warrior genre prints.

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By Chikanobu Toyohara 1838-1912

Saito Musashibo Benkei was a historic monk warrior in feudal Japan of great strength and a legendary figure. For centuries the character of Benkei has been subject to Kabuki and Noh plays and to numerous depictions on Japanese art objects. He is the epitome of a guy strong like a grizzly bear, but with a big heart and loyal to his lord - still one of the greatest virtues in Japanese society.

Oniwaka - The Devil's Child

Benkei's birth and youth is a series of legends. His mother was the daughter of a blacksmith. According to one story, his father was the head of a temple shrine and had raped his mother. Another legend sees him as the offspring of a Japanese temple god. And he was said not to have been born after 9 months of pregnancy, but after 18 months - a monster child with wild hair and long teeth.

Whatever the circumstances of his birth may have been, this child was apparently an innate troublemaker and an indomitable little rowdy. Soon everybody called him Oniwaka - the "devil's child" or "young devil".

His enervated foster parents solved the problem by giving the little rowdy into the custody of a cloister. When the monks finally had enough of him, they sent him to another temple - ... and so on. Benkei got to know a lot of temples and monasteries during his youth.

The Yamabushi Bandit Monk

At the age of seventeen he was a giant of nearly supernatural strength and two meters tall (6.5 feet). Being in permanent trouble with his monk superiors and peers, he finally quit and joined the Yamabushi, a sect of wandering bandit monks, who wore a small black cap as a sign of group recognition. Images of Benkei on Japanese prints show him often with this little black cap.

Being a monk and warrior at the same time, was nothing uncommon in feudal Japan. The Buddhist cloisters had played a dominant military and political role until the reign of the tyrant Oda Nobunaga, who fought fierce wars against the cloisters and finally subdued them in the bloody and brutal besiege of the monastery at Mt. Hiei in 1571.

As a Yamabushi, Saito Musashibo Benkei, as he called himself now, lead the life of a robber. He had posted himself at Goyo bridge in Kyoto, where he deprived every sword holder of his weapon, who passed the bridge. Thus he had collected 999 swords.

The Goyo Bridge Fight of Benkei and Yoshitsune

One evening, when Benkei was luring for his sword number 1000 at Goyo bridge, Yoshitsune, a young man of small and fragile stature passed by. He wore a nice sword and played the flute.

It was an unequal fight, but the outcome was different than one would have expected. Not the physically superior Benkei won, but the agile Yoshitsune. He defeated the crude giant with his swift and skillful movements and superior fighting techniques.

Yoshitsune had received his sword training by the Tengu. They are mythological creatures, half-human/half-bird, and first-class fighters in martial art.

Images of Yoshitsune's training in sword fighting and martial arts with the Tengu belong to the most charming images of Japanese woodblock prints. They are usually found in the form of triptychs or diptychs. The Tengu are depicted as funny-looking small goblins. The chief goblins are recognizable by their huge noses.

Benkei - the Faithful Vassal

After this remarkable "mother of all sword fights", Benkei vowed eternal loyalty to Yoshitsune. His life took a complete turn. From now on he accompanied his new lord through numerous adventures and battles as the faithful vassal and second banana.

It was the time of the Genpei wars, when the Minamato clan finally defeated their arch-rivals, the Taira clan in fierce fighting. Yoshitsune was the brilliant military leader of the Minamato. Japanese history and legend books and Kabuki plays are full of Yoshitoshi's audacious and clever moves. And always at his side, his faithful vassal Benkei, feared by the enemy and revered by book readers and movie and theater spectators.

Benkei remained a character loved by the children of today's Japan like "Pooh Bear" by American kids.

Loyalty Until the End

Yoshitsune reached the peak of his success in the naval battle of Dannoura, when he lead the Minamato to their ultimate victory over the Taira. But things took a bad turn for him. when his own brother Yoritomo had no scruples to go after him.

When Yoshitsune had to flee from his brother, Benkei proved to be a real friend. He accompanied his master during a two year ordeal, when they had to flee and hide from the troops of the evil Yoritomo.

Now Benkei showed that he was more than a crude Rambo fighter. More than once he bailed his master out of dangerous situations not by using force, but cunning tricks. Famous is the episode when he deceived a checkpoint control occupied by Yoritomo's men.

But neither the great physical forces nor cleverness could evade the inevitable destiny. In the end, Yoshitsune with Benkei and a few remaining companions had been encircled in the castle of Takadachi. Yoshitsune first killed his own family to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy. Then he committed suicide.

Benkei died as an upright hero. Pierced by numerous arrows he fought to the very end. Even when he was lying dead on the ground, he was still protecting his master. His huge body blocked the entrance to Yoshitoshi's room and nobody dared to step over him.

The Japanese legend goes that the dead Yoshitsune and Benkei were only body doubles and that the real Benkei and Yoshitsune escaped and lead a happy life until the end of their days.

From the artelino Archive

Enjoy a few random examples of related art works sold in past auctions of artelino. Our archive offers a database of more than 50,000 sold Japanese prints and about 2,000 contemporary Chinese art prints with detailed descriptions, large images and results in USD. artelino clients with an active purchase history and authorized consignors have full access. Read the ARCHIVE GUIDE and test a trial version.

Item # 71312 - Mirrors of Famous Generals of Japan - Dai Nippon Meisho Kagami - Benkei and Yoshitsune - Sold for $280 - 5/21/2017
From the series "Dainippon Meisho Kagami" ("Mirrors of the Famous Generals of Great Japan"). Ushiwakamaru (later known as Yoshitsune) and Benkei are fighting on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. The mighty priest-warrior, Musashibo Benkei, is trying hard to strike agile Yoshitsune in vain. At last, he surrendered and became one of the loyal followers of Yoshitsune. They are the most beloved heroes in Japanese legends and numerous kabuki plays and ukiyo-e have depicted them.
By Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (Taiso) 1839-1892
Item # 70812 - Tokyo Views - Benkei Bridge - Sold for $240 - 4/30/2017
From the "Tokyo Fukei" ("Tokyo Views") series. "Benkei-bashi" (Benkei Bridge). It is already a night. There is no traffic on the usually busy bridge in the middle of Tokyo. Only the street lanterns illuminate the full blooming cherry trees nearby. Their pale blossoms look as if they were floating in the darkness of the night.
By Koitsu Tsuchiya 1870-1949
Item # 70229 - Ichikawa Danjuro as Benkei - Sold for $550 - 12/4/2016
From the series, "Heisei Yakusha Oh-kagami". The character of the mountain priest Benkei, loyal follower of persecuted Yoshitsune is one of the famous heroes of Japanese folklore. Here Ichikawa Danjuro XII performs the Fudõ mie, or "pose like the god Fudõ", with his eyes crossed and all motion on stage stopped. (description taken from the artist's web site).
This is a "mihon" (test print) made for the artist's ideas for color combination. A print which shows the glimp of artist's mind, which is processing the design to a finished art work. These test prints are rarely seen in the market.
By Paul Binnie born 1967
Item # 70191 - Benkei and Yoshitsune, Kanjincho - Sold for $200 - 2/26/2017
A scene of the popular kabuki play, "Kanjincho" performed at Ichimura-za theater. Minamoto Yoshitsune (left: played by Iwai Kumesaburo III), Musashibo Benkei (middle: played by Kawarazaki Gonjuro I) and Togashi Saemon played by Ichikawa Kodanji IV.
By Kunisada Utagawa 1786-1865
Item # 68990 - Tokyo Views - Benkei Bridge - Sold for $380 - 10/23/2016
From the "Tokyo Fukei" ("Tokyo Views") series. "Benkei-bashi" (Benkei Bridge). It is already a night. There is no traffic on the usually busy bridge in the middle of Tokyo. Only the street lanterns illuminate the full blooming cherry trees nearby. Their pale blossoms look as if they were floating in the darkness of the night.
By Koitsu Tsuchiya 1870-1949

Video about Benkei - 1155-1189

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Literature sources

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura