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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Minamoto Yorimasa (源三位頼政 - here Genzanmi Yorimasa) on the left has shot the nue (鵺) - Ii no Hayata Hironao (猪早太廣直) in the center is about to finish it off. On the right panel is Watanabe Tadashi? (渡邉丁七唱)

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Dates: circa 1820 - 1825,created
Dimensions: 30.75 in,14.25 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: color woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
一勇斎国芳画
Publisher: Yamamotoya Heikichi (Marks 595 - 04-007)
Censor's seal: kiwame

Related links: British Museum - links to all three panels; Database of Folklore Illustrations;

Physical description:

In the original account the nue was not visible in the dark cloud that hovered over the Imperial palace, the Shishinden (紫宸殿). The "Sovereign Konoe is haunted every evening: when "black clouds would come from the direction of the Higashisanjo woods to hover over the... palace, he would be thrown into a panic." " It was a matter of hit or miss, but Yorimasa is said to have prayed to Hachiman, the god of war, for help and, sure enough, he hit the monster on his first try. If he had missed he was going to shoot an arrow at the Middle Counselor Masayori, who had convinced the Emperor to give Yorimasa this task. It was one thing for warriors to protect the Emperor by scaring away enemies, as Yosiie had done for Horikawa in the past, and it was another thing for a warrior to try and kill an invisible monster.

In recognition of his success the Emperor bestows the Lion King (Shishiō - 獅子王) sword on Yorimasa.

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There are four other prints in the Lyon Collection which deal with the theme of Yorimasa's slaying of the nue: #584 by Shunshi; #567 by Hokushū; #909 by Kuniyoshi; and #1170 by Ashiyuki.

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The story of the slaying of the nue appears in Book 4, Section 15 - 'The Nightbird' - of The Tale of Heike. The emperor has been disturbed by nightmares and it was thought that these must have a physical manifestation. So, Yorimasa is called in to slay the monster which is causing these nightly disturbances. Below is the translation provided by Royall Tyler:

At the hour foreseen for His Majesty's torment, a black cloud moved, as those who knew said it would, from toward the grove at Tōsanjō, then settled over where the emperor lay. Yorimasa, glancing up sharply, saw iin it a strange shape. He knew he was finished if he missed.

Nonetheless he took an arrow,
fitted it carefully to the string,
called in the secret depths of his heart,
"Hail, Great Bodhisattva Hachiman!,"
drew to the full, and let fly.
He had a hit; his arm felt it.
"Got him!" He gave the archer's yell.
I no Hayata swiftly approached,
found where the thing had fallen,
and ran it through nine times with his sword
Everyone there brought up light
for a good look at whatever it was:
a monkey's head, a badger's body,
a snake's tail, the limbs of a tiger,
and a cry like that of a thrush.
"Frightening" is hardly the word.

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Nue can also be translated as 'night thrush'. It is described as having "a monkey's head, a tanuki's body, a snake's tail, a tiger's legs and a cry like that of a golden mountain thrush. "The name for the beast comes from its call - nue originally refers to a thrush with a particularly eerie song." (Oyler, 'The Nue and Other Monsters in the Heike Monogatari, Havard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 68, #2, December, 2008, p. 2.)

"The various creatures that compose the nue convey geomantic and divinatory meanings. The monkey, snake, and tiger demarcate quarter positions on the zodiac corresponding to the directions of west-southwest, south-southeast, and east-northeast, respectively, and to the corresponding hours yū nanatsu 夕七つ, asa yotsu 朝四つ, and akastuki nanatsu 朝七つ. Through the body of the shape-shifting tanuki these representatives of discrete spaces and times were conjoined, resulting in an unexpected reification of a geomantic configuration that medieval audiences would undoubtedly recognize as odd. The creature's very unnaturalness evoked fear and horror after it had been felled. (Ibid., p. 3)

There are two Nō plays dealing with these figures: one is Nue and the other is Yorimasa.

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Illustrated in:

1) Ukiyo-e dai musha-e ten - 浮世絵大武者絵展 - (The Samurai World in Ukiyo-e), edited by Yuriko Iwakiri, Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts, 2003, #186, p. 64. [This example is in the Nagoya City Museum.]

2) in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 4, p. 57.

3) a black and white reproduction in Kuniyoshi: The Warrior Prints by B.W. Robinson, Cornell University Press, 1982, pl. 35, T7. B. W. Robinson in his book Kuniyoshi published in 1961 gives the dates for this triptych as ca. 1820-25.

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There is another copy of this triptych in the National Museums of Scotland.