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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Shiōren Sajima-no-kami Masataka (四王連左可馬頭政高), #29 (廿九) from the series Heroes of the Great Peace (Taiheiki eiyūden - 太平記英勇傳)

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Dates: circa 1848 - 1849,created
Dimensions: 9.875 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese woodblock print
Inscription: Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
一勇斎国芳画
Artist's seal: kiri
Publisher: Yamamotoya Heikichi
(Marks 595 - seal 04-007)
Censor seals: Mera and Murata
Number 29: 廿九

Related links: British Museum; Tokyo Metropolitan Library - Yoshiiku's 1867 version of this same figure; Muzeum Sztuki i Techniki Japońskiej Manggha, Krakow;

Physical description:

In the early nineteenth century Tsuruya Namboku IV wrote a play for Matsumoto Koshirō IV. It was called Toki wa ima kikkyo no hataage (時今也桔梗旗揚) or 'The Standard of Revolt'. It dealt with the events leading up to the death of Oda Nobunaga. "In this play the character of Mitsuhide is on the whole a sympathetic one, but in the more famous Ehon Taikoki...he is depicted as a complete villain. This is because his motive in killing Harunaga [the historical Oda Nobunaga] was not simply to avenge the insults heaped on him. If he had killed Harunaga and then committed suicide, he would have been a hero. Because he wished to seize Harunaga's power he is a villain."

Quoted from: The Kabuki Handbook by Aubrey and Giovanna Halford, p. 335.

Akechi Mitsuhide, a former ronin, became a retainer of Nobunaga, but in time tensions developed between them. Nobunaga worried about Mitsuhide's ambitions and Mitsuhide worried about threats to his possessions and stature. This led to Nobunaga's death. The same fate came to Nobunaga's son and favorite page.

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The British Museum describes this print as "Shioren Sajima-no-kami Masataka holding up a scroll of Buddhist scripture with his spear."

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The name Shiōren can also be read as Shiōden. Masataka was a vassal of Akechi Mitsuhide. He was sent to stop or slow down Hideyoshi who was marching toward an attack on Akechi in Kyoto.

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Illustrated in a full-page color reproduction in Heroes of the grand pacification: Kuniyoshi's Taiheiki eiyū den by Elena Varshavskaya, Hotei Publishing, 2005, p. 117.

Varshavskaya gives the translation of the text as:

[Shiōren Sajima-no kami Masataka] was a vassal of Toki... and a warrior of matchless daring. Ordered by his lord, he, together with Akashi Ridayū... had selected over seventy excellent warriors and made an ambush under the guise of peasants building a road between Kamagasaki Nishinomiya in Settsu provice. While they were waiting for the enemy general... to arrive on his return from Chūgoku, just as they expected, a solitary horseman riding ahead of his troops reached that place. They saw him and were going to surround and kill him but the enemy general showed no sign of alarm. He whipped up his horse, leaped over the heads of the attackers and onto the footpath between the rice fields and dashed up to the front gates of the Buddhist temple of Kōtokuji. Noticing, however, that Shiōren was closely pursuing him [the rider] cut his horse twice with the sword at the back near the spleen and turning the horse towards Masataka, set it free. The path was narrow, no doubt, and there was no way for Shiōren [to escape]. Enraged, he caught the horse by its front legs and tossed it into the midst of the wet rice fields. [Shiōren] entered the temple to search it but as the general's destiny was high and so was his intelligence, he instantaneously changed his appearance for that of an acolyte and remained in the kitchen. Masataka could not find him, and leaving, he passed again through the front gates and unexpectedly fell in with Satō Toranosuke... who was hurrying to the same place. They announced their names and grappled. Both were celebrated brave warriors. Without a gap from right to left or front to rear, the skilful heroes were combating. the time passed, but there seemed to be no end to the duel. At a certain they simultaneously threw away their large swords and closed with one another making desperate efforts. They wrestled violently, cutting their feet by earth and sand. Despite the unparalleled courage of Masataka, his fate had run out, and finally, defeated by Masakiyo... he fell in combat.

Varshavskaya wrote of this print: "The warrior is shown bareheaded in full armour with a sutra scroll unrolled as he searches the temple using his spear. The composition might be a visual allusion to an episode from The Taiheiki. When the prince of the Great Pagoda hid himself in containers for sutras, his pursuers turned over sutra boxes in search for him."