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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Ii-no-Hayata Hironoa (猪早太寛直) Seizing the Monster Nue from the series 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden All Told (Tsūzoku Suikoden gōketsu hyakuhachinin no hitori - 本朝水滸傳豪傑八百人一個)

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Dates: circa 1830,created
Dimensions: 9.625 in,14.0 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
一勇斎国芳画
Publisher: Kagaya Kichiemon
(Marks 195 - seal 22-025)
Censor's seal: kiwame

Related links: British Museum;

Physical description:

"Ii Hayata Hironao (or Ii no Hayata Tadazumi) is a retainer of the celebrated semi-historical figure, Minamoto Yorimasa (1106-80). The term 'semi-historical' implies that while it is known that Yorimasa actually lived in the 12th century, the facts of his life are shrouded by his legendary exploits. A descendant of Yorimitsu (944-1021; also known as Raikō), who rid the country of many perilous demons. Yorimasa is renowned for his skill as an archer. He makes a further name for himself when, in 1153, he is summoned to the imperial palace by the young emperor Konoe (1139-55). Suffering from an eye inflamation, Konoe's troubled sleep is frequently disturbed by horrible shrieks and loud scratching on the palace roof. Upon inspection, nothing is visible but a black cloud and Yorimasa is called in to solve this unusual problem. He shoots and arrow into the cloud and suddenly a nue, 'a beast nearly as big as a horse, with a monkey's head, the back of a badger, the claws of a tiger, scales of a dragon and a tail with a snake's head at the tip,' falls to the earth. His retainer, Hironao, kills the monster after a fierce struggle during which its snake-like tail bites into Hiranao's helmet."

Quoted from: Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi 1797-1861 by Robert Schaap, p. 46.

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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: #200, a triptych by Kuniyoshi; #567 by Hokushū; #584 by Shunshi; 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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Also illustrated in color in Kuniyoshi by Juzo Suzuki, Heibonsha Limited, Publishers, 1992, no. 89.