Kuniyoshi, Military Brilliance for the Eight Views - Night Rain at Narumi

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Military Brilliance for the Eight Views: Night Rain at Narumi, 1852. Oban.

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This extraordinary design is the outstanding print from this superb series. Kuniyoshi draws the famous General Imagawa Yoshimoto (Minamoto no Yoshitomo) at the Battle of Okehazama which took place in 1560. The battle, which is well attested, was fought in an intense downpour and at night time - hence Kuniyoshi pairing the disastrous defeat of Yoshitomo with the Night Rain of the Eight Views.

The eight views are confusing to the western viewer; originally a Chinese concept, the views were a catalogue of beautiful scenes in the Xiaoxiang region of China from the Song dynasty around the eleventh century. The views were traditionally associated with deeper themes of exile and enlightenment, history and Taoism. The Japanese co-opted the idea and produced poetry and prints celebrating similar themes with associated titles but set in Japan rather than the native China. The original eight subtitles from 1090 remain as follows:

Wild Geese DescendSailboat(s) Returning Home, Clearing Mist, Sunset Snow, The Autumn Moon, Night Rain, Evening Bell, Evening Glow.

In this print, one of Kuniyoshi’s outstanding designs, we see the scowling figure of Yoshimoto, clutching a spear, imprisoned behind bars of rain as if in a cage - a metaphor for his imminent defeat. Behind him a subaltern’s face reveals the defeat and fear that is masked in the General’s look of resignation. The background to the scene is the decisive victory by one of Japan’s most successful military commanders, Oda Nobunaga. Outnumbered and in retreat, Nobunaga launched a counter offensive on Yoshimoto’s camp in the rain and at night. His famous speech before the successful assault sums up the spirit of the samurai that was so revered in Japan for so many centuries:

Yoshimoto has 40,000 men marching toward this place… this is a chance in a lifetime. I can't afford to miss this. Do you really want to spend your entire lives praying for longevity? We were born in order to die! Whoever is with me, come to the battlefield tomorrow morning. Whoever is not, just stay wherever you are and watch me win it!

Yoshimoto was beheaded in the aftermath of the surprise attack.

This is a superb print, an exceptional design from the first edition, and in fine condition. Colour and impression are very fine, some minor frits to the left side, otherwise perfect condition. The large cartouche surrounded my militaria contains a poem celebrating the event.

A copy of this print is in the MFA Boston.

Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga with kiri seal. Published by Enshuya Hikobei.

35cm x 25cm.