Kuniyoshi, Mirror of Our Country's Military Excellence - Kumagae Jiro Naozane

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Mirror of Our Country's Military Excellence: Kumagae Jiro Naozane, 1845. Oban.

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A very nice Kuniyoshi musha-e (warrior print). There is something jingoistic in the title... this was a highly political time, a very sensitive and reactive government and Kuniyoshi and other artists were under scrutiny all of the time. This appears to be a safe subject… glorifying Japan’s past? In fact there is an equivocation even here, putting up the heroes of the great mythical times of the warring states against the decadence and immobility of the contemporary samurai class.

Kumagae Jiro Naozane was a famous soldier who served the Genji Clan during the Heian period of Japanese history. Kumagai is particularly known for his exploits during the Genpei War, specifically for killing the young warrior Taira no Atsumori at the battle of Ichi-no-tani in 1184. Atsumori's death and the circumstances surrounding it went on to be fictionalised and retold in numerous forms, including the Heike Monogatari epic, a number of Noh plays, and in kabuki theatres as well. The story is poignant because of the youth and beauty of Taira no Atsumori, the beautiful and tragic boy warrior.   The young Atsumori is ambushed on a beach by Kumagai Naozane. Naozane beckoned the youth, saying: “I see that you are a Commander-in-Chief. It is dishonorable to show your back to an enemy. Return!”

The two grappled on the beach, but Kumagai was too powerful. Kumagai knocked off Atsumori's helmet to deliver the finishing blow, only to be struck by the beauty of the young noble. Atsumori was "sixteen or seventeen years old, with a lightly powdered face and blackened teeth—a boy just the age of Naozane's own son..."  At that moment, other Minamoto warriors arrived at the scene, and Kumagai knew that if he didn't kill Atsumori, the other warriors surely would. Kumagai reasoned that it would be better if he were the one to kill Atsumori, because he could offer prayers on his behalf for the afterlife. Crying, Kumagai beheaded the boy. Searching the body for something to wrap the head in, he came across a bag containing a flute. He realized that Atsumori must have been one of the soldiers playing music before the battle and thought: “There are tens of thousands of riders in our eastern armies, but I am sure none of them has brought a flute to the battlefield. Those court nobles are refined men!” In some versions of the story, Atsumori has changed places with Kumagai's own son Kojiro.

Kuniyoshi shows a ferocious Naozane, sword raised in heroic pose. Impression and condition are fine but the there is some fading.

Published by: Sanoya Kihei.

26 x 38 cm.