Yoshitoshi, Mirror of Famous Generals of Japan - Emperor Jimmu

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Mirror of Famous Generals of Japan (Dai nippon meisho kagami) #37 Emperor Jimmu, 1880. Oban.

This is a very popular and famous print… although first editions like this rarely come onto the market. A google search will deliver dozens of images of this print of Emperor Jimmu from sites generally unconnected with ukiyo-e. This is not so much to do with Jimmu, (the first Japanese leader) but with the three legged crow that has perched upon his bow. It is an arresting image this; the casual viewer would be forgiven for thinking that the print is from a wholly different tradition than that of Japan. This is surely more an image of Moses or Christ even, taken from a nineteenth century family bible. Yoshitoshi was instrumental in continuing Kuniyoshi’s (his teacher) introduction of western conventions into Japanese art. There is much in this print that is borrowed from the west… the poses of the figures, the features and the hair of Jimmu and the handling - the realism - of the drapery and incidental detail.

The subject is wholly Japanese. The story reaches back into old mythology, the pre-history of Japan. Jimmu is Chinese for divine valour and it also refers to the period that denotes the founding of Japan as a nation. Jimmu Tenno was believed to be the child of Tama-yori-hime, daughter of the Sea God. Jimmu began his conquest of Japan in his 45th year, the campaign lasting six years. Jimmu finally conquered the area known as Yamato and built a palace there. Japanese history begins with the day that Jimmu  (Kami Yamato Ihare-biko) assumed the title Tenno, translated as Emperor. 

The reason why the print is so popular is not because of Jimmu, but rather because of Yatagarasu, pictured here perching on the tip of Jimmu’s upheld bow. Yatagarasu is a three legged crow and the divine harbinger of rebirth and rejuvenation. It was Yatagarasu who guided the first emperor on his journey to Yamato.

This is a very good print - fairly rare in this condition and quite famous. The series took Yoshitoshi several years to complete and is an early example of his mature style which began wholly to adopt western conventions. From the first edition, colour, impression and condition are all fine.

Published by Funazu Chujiro.

24cm x 36cm.