Essays by Yoshitoshi: Asahina Saburo Yoshihide
(Ikkai zuihitsu: Asahina Saburo Yoshihide)
signed Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi hitsu, with publisher's seal Dobashi Masadaya han (Masadaya Heikichi of Seiedo), ca. 1873
oban tate-e 14 1/4 by 9 7/8 in., 36.2 by 25.2 cm
Asahina Saburo Yoshihide (1174-later than 1213) is captured in a scene from the farcical kabuki play Asahina. He is both a historical and a folkloric figure, whose historical escapades and personal mythology have come together to form a rich literary and surprisingly comic tradition. In life, he was the third son of the feudal lord Wada Yoshimori and is remembered as an exceptional warrior who lost his father and two brothers in the failed attack on the palace of Hojo Yoshitoki (1163-1224) in 1213. In the assault, he is said to have single-handedly torn down the palace doors. In folklore, he is said to have been an unrivaled swimmer with superhuman strength and the son of the legendary female warrior Tomoe Gozen (1157-1247). In this composition, he stands amongst a number of demons in full aragoto ('rough style') make-up. The king of hell, Emma-O, is the red-skinned devil sitting in agony as the ferocious and muscular Asahina grabs him by the scruff. After subduing Emma-O, Asahina would force the demon to show him the path to heaven. It is important to understand, however, that this is in fact a satirical play, and that it borrows from a long tradition of Asahina as a comic, rather than fearsome, figure.
The representation of the historical Asahina in a comic light was fairly common by Yoshitoshi's time. In kabuki, he is perhaps best remembered as an adversary of the infamous Soga brothers, and is the subject of ridicule when Soga Goro publicly disrobed the warrior in the Armor-Pulling (Kusazuribiki) scene. Following that play, which originated in the 18th century, Asahina came to be placed in a wide variety of comedic positions seemingly at odds with his historical legacy. In the late 1830s, Yoshitoshi's teacher, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), twice depicted Asahina as large, soft, and smiling: once wrestling with figures from other countries; and later in a Swiftian position as a giant amongst a group of inquisitive pygmies. In 1860, Utagawa Sadahide (1807-1873) copied engravings of the colossus of Rhodes in a triptych of a giant Asahina, presiding over a harbor. By the time of Yoshitoshi's depiction of the warrior, audiences would have appreciated the comedic context of this aragoto figure.
Highlights of Japanese Printmaking: Part Five - Yoshitoshi, Scholten Japanese Art, New York, 2017, cat. no. 48
Roger Keyes, Courage and Silence, 1983, p. 395, no. 280.9
John Stevenson, Yoshitoshi's Thirty-Six Ghosts, 1983, p. 16
Eric van den Ing & Robert Schaap, Beauty and Violence, 1992, p. 111, no. 23.9
James King & Yuriko Iwakiri, Japanese Warrior Prints: 1646-1905, 2007, pp. 46-47, 109 (re: story)
Yuriko Iwakiri, Yoshitoshi, 2014, p. 68, no. 88
FAMSF, accession no. 1982.1.15 (re: Sadahide, colossus composition)
MFA, Boston, accession no. 11.36728 (re: Kuniyoshi pygmies composition)
MFA, Boston, accession no. 17.3206.17 (re: Kuniyoshi wrestling composition)
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site last updated
November 13, 2018
Scholten Japanese Art
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