Kuniyoshi, Japanese Heroes for the Twelve Signs Boar - Kajiwara Heizo Kagetoki

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Japanese Heroes for the Twelve Signs: Boar - Kajiwara Heizo Kagetoki, 1854. Oban.

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This great series of 12 prints illustrates the signs of the Japanese zodiac, taking individual Japanese heroes - warriors, generals and so on - and pairing their characteristics with the animals of the astrological chart. The twelve animals are: rat, bull, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and boar. These animals were chosen because they were called by the Buddha to his death bed. All of the prints in the series have the title on a shaded oblong cartouche including the name of the hero and the character for the sign.

In this print Kuniyoshi shows the pretty much despised general Kajiwara Heizo Kagetoki on the sea shore, gesturing urgently off picture. Behind him is the tented backdrop of a military camp, with bakufu and other officers. In others of the series, the allusion to the animal is obvious; with this print, (unknown to Robinson and quite rarely seen) the allusion is less clear.  It would appear that Kuniyoshi is referring to a Japanese saying associated with the boar: Chototsu-moushin or "to rush recklessly to one's goal without thinking” (like a wild boar runs).

Kajiwara Heizo Kagetoki (1162 - 1200) was renowned as a reckless general, as a spy and a dishonest man. He spied initially for the Taira Clan during the traumatic Genpei wars but switched sides to that of Minamoto no Yoritomo and his brother Yoshitsune. Humiliated by Yoshitsune for suggesting the use of reversible oars to effect retreat, he was instrumental in establishing the feud that would lead to Yoshitsune’s death.

These later Kuniyoshi prints are lavishly designed and printed, the elderly Kajwara is well realised, recklessly urging his ships on and his robes are richly drawn and printed. This is a very nice print in fine condition, a good early impression with excellent colour.

Publisher: Mikawa-ya Kihei.

25 x 36 cm.