Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Stories of True Loyalty of the Faithful Samurai Number 9: Onodera Junai Hidetomo, 1847/48. Oban.
Perhaps the most popular and best known of Kuniyoshi's work, this series celebrates the heroes of one of Japan's most enduring historical events: the 47 Ronin. In 1702 Lord Asano of Ako was provoked by Kira Kozukensuke into drawing his sword in the shogun's palace, for which he was forced to take his own life. Forty seven of his retainers became Ronin - samurai without masters. They vowed revenge on their leader and attacked Kira's palace the following year, decapitating him and carrying his head to lay on Asano's grave. They in turn took their own lives.
In this print the Ronin Onodera Junai Hidetomo is seen looking to the distance with a pennant on his back. The writing recounts that Hidetomo was over sixty but brave and a good warrior. He was also a scholar and as the time of the conflict drew near he wrote this poem:
As one grows older
one waits with anticipation
the day the flowers bloom;
How difficult to witness
The year coming to a close
The print is in very good condition. Many of this series are poor quality, the blocks having worn out through over use. This print is a fine early impression with strong colour and crisp lines.
Signed Ichiyiusai Kuniyoshi ga, published by Ebya Rinnosuke with censor seals and Kuniyoshi red kiri seal.
The print is illustrated in Weinberg, Kuniyoshi: The Faithful Samurai, Hotei Publishing 2000.