Item # 39647 Mirrors of Famous Generals of Japan - Benkei and Yoshitsune
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
The series Dai Nippon Meisho Kagami, "Mirrors of
Famous Commanders of Japan", is among the
popular ones of Yoshitoshi. The artist designed it between
1876 and 1880. It was the time when he finally found
public recognition and commercial success
- after years of poverty
and sheer struggle for survival.
Mirror of Famous Commanders of Japan
The total series consists of 51 panels and a cover page.
Each panel depicts a famous military and or political
leader from Japan's past - with a few exceptions like
the last print showing the goddess of sun.
Some of the characters are
rather legendary like empress Jingu or Takenouchi Sukune
(Takeuchi no Sukune), who allegedly became 280 years old.
Many of the heroic figures are from Japan's turmoiled
times of the Genpei wars, when the powerful clans of
the Fujiwara, Taira and Minamato fought for supremacy in
Japan in the 12th century. Many other scenes show leaders
and events from the times of
the civil wars in the 16th century.
The cover page lists the names of 51 famous, Japanese
personalities and historical or legendary figures.
A Successful Print Series
The series was a great commercial success.
At the time, when Dai Nippon Meisho Kagami was
published, Japan was under the impression of the events of the
Satsuma rebellion - a last uprise of the old
forces against radical Meiji reforms. It looks like the
Satsuma rebellion stirred an interest of the public
in images of military and historic events.
At the same time a new national pride and self-confidence
developed after the humiliating,
forced opening of the country by a US fleet of 1853 and
1854. The Meiji reforms were about to catapult the
country to new industrial and military
standards. As in Western countries like England, France
or Germany, a sense of nationalism and imperialism
This general political background was a good commercial
basis for a print series that glorified Japan's past.
Information for Collectors
The print series was published by Kumagai (the first 11
panels) and Funazu Chujiro between 1876 and 1882.
The block carvers were Hori Mino and Horiko Ota Hedekatsu.
All prints are in
and in tate-e format (vertical portrait format).
As with all successful print series, the quality of
impressions differs widely. Early editions are fine, but
with increasing numbers of copies the blocks get worn off
and impression quality comes down. Another issue that
collectors should be aware of, are color problems. The
aniline colors used for early Meiji prints were not the
best (.. they came from Germany, by the way).
They can bleed (especially the red) or change color
due to oxidizing.
51 Woodblock Prints
- Yamato Takeru no Mikoto
- Takenouchi Sukune
- Sakanoue Tamuramaro - 751-811
- Minamoto no Raiko (Yorimitsu) - 944-1021 and Shuten-doji
- Minamoto no Yorioshi - 995-1082
- Hachiman Taro Yoshiie (Minamato no Yoshiie) - 1041-1108
- Udaisho Minamato no Yoritomo - 1147-1199
- Nitta Yoshisada - 1301-1338
- Taira no Kiyomori - 1118-1181
- Toyotomi Hideyoshi
- 1537-1598 and Kato Kiyomasa
- Tokugawa Iyeasu - 1542-1616
- Gensani Yorimasa (Minamato Yorimasa) - 1106-1180
- Hojo Tokiyori - 1226-1263
- Taira no Shigemori - 1138-1179
- Yoshitsune (1159-1189) and Benkei
- Takeda Harunobu - 1521-1573
- Oda Nobunaga - 1534-1582
- Ashikaga Takauji - 1305-1358
- Kusonoki Masashige - 1294-1336
- Uesugi no Terutora Nyudo Kenshin - 1530-1578
- Tokugawa Iemitsu - 1603-1651
- Shotoku Taishi - 572-612
- Nakatomi no Kamatari, Naka-no-Oe-no-Oji and Uruka Daijin - in 645
- Minamato no Tsunemoto - 894-961
- Minamato no Yorinobu - 968-1048
- Minamato no Yoshimitsu - 1056-1127
- Minamato no Yoshitomo - 1123-1160
- Minamato no Tametomo - 1139-1170
- Ashikaga Yoshimasa - 1435-1490
- Otomo no Sadehiko and his wife Sayohime - in 536
- Taira no Sadamori and Taira no Masakado - 901-940
- Hojo Yasutoki - 1183-1242
- Hojo Ujiyasu - 1515-1570
- Taira no Koremochi
- Ashikaga Yoshimitsu - 1358-1408
- Susanoo no Mikoto
- Emperor Jimmu
- Michinoomi no mikoto
- Saohime, wife of Emperor Suinen
- The ghost of Tamichi
- Otomo no Kanemura - in 498
- Abe no Hirafu - in 658
- Sakanoue no Karitamaro - 728-786
- Fumiya no Watamaro - 763-821
- Ono no Yoshifuru Ason - 888-968
- Tawara Toda or Fujiwara no Hidesato with Emperor Suzaku - 931-946
- Minamato no Mitsunaka - 912-997
- Minamato no Tameyoshi - 12th century
- Taifubo Kakumyo and Kiso Yoshinaka - 1154-1184
- Mori Motonari - 1497-1571
- Sun Goddess Amaterasu omikami
- Eric van den Ing, Robert Schaap, "Beauty and Violence, Japanese prints by Yoshitoshi,
1839-1892", Society for Japanese Arts and John Stevenson (introduction), 1992, ISBN 90-70216-04-03
- "Divine Dementia: The Woodblock Prints of Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892",
Shogun Gallery, 1083 Wisconsin Ave., N.W. Washington, D.C., 2007, USA
Author: Dieter Wanczura