Yoshitoshi, Yoshitoshi's Warriors - Nomi no Sukune Wrestling with Taima no Kehaya

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Yoshitoshi's Warriors: Nomi no Sukune Wrestling with Taima no Kehaya, 1885. Oban.

Click here for a full-size image.

This fine print is from a series made in 1885 and seems to typify some of the myths surrounding the artist, Yoshitoshi. Here is a raging bull of a man, the subject being the first ever bout of sumo wrestling… the invention of Japan’s national sport. But here the figures seem half crazed, they bristle with hair and seem to be the product of a rage filled and deranged mind. In popular accounts of Yoshitoshi, he is portrayed as suffering what we might say today was a borderline personality disorder… self-pitying and filled with anger and hurt and yet also displaying great insight and honesty. Some or indeed none of this may be true. The drawing is a piece of really outstanding originality; like so much of his work of the 1880’s, it seems to predict and inform the direction that European and American graphic arts would take for the next several decades at least… artists such as Edmund Dulac, or Kay Nielsen or any of the many illustrators of the early twentieth century.

The subject is the development of fighting art in Japan. The following description from Fightingarts website tells the story: 

Combat arts utilising grappling had existed in Japan for centuries, as it had in many cultures throughout the world. One system of Japanese unarmed techniques was Sumai, that developed out of what we now know as Sumo. This account from the Nihon Shoki ("Chronicles of Japan," an historical record commissioned by the imperial family in 720 A.D.) demonstrates:

 "It is recorded during the reign of the emperor Suinin in the year 23 B.C. Taema no Kuehaya (who was described as a noble of great strength and stature) fought Nomi no Sukune of Izumo province. During the course of this ferocious battle Nomi delivered a monstrous kick to the ribs of Taema (breaking them) and knocking him down. Nomi then finished him with a bone crushing stomp on Taema's hip. An injury Taema would die from a day later."

This is a fine print. An early edition of the first publishing by Kobayashi Tetsujiro. The colours are crisp and the impression is fine. There is a copy of this print in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Published by Kobayashi Tetsujiro.

25 x 38 cm.