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Appearance of the Seven-Headed Dragon God

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892

Mt. Minobu: The Appearance of the Seven-Headed Dragon God
(Minobuyama: Shichimen daimyojin shutsugen)

signed Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi hitsu, with publisher's seal Tsujikame han (Tsujiokaya Kamekichi of Kinkido), and combined censor and date seal Tatsu-hachi, aratame (year of the dragon [1868], 8th lunar month, examined)

oban tate-e triptych 14 5/8 by 29 in., 37 by 73.6 cm

The seven-faced nymph of Kai Province's Mount Minobu is featured in the center of the composition riding a dragon and flanked by a brigade of spirits. This supernatural host is defending the mountain's Buddhist Nichiren sect from Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), the expansionist daimyo and ruler of Kai Province. The legend of the nymph originates in 1277, when she visited the hermetic Priest Nichiren (1222-1282) as he was praying at his mountain shrine. She revealed herself to be Minobu's dragon protector, and promised that if anyone in danger upon the mountain were to recite the Lotus Sutra (Hokekyo), she would save them from calamity.

Mount Minobu is to this day a prominent place of worship for the Nichiren sect. The founder of the sect, Priest Nichiren, lived in isolation on the mountain for some time and built the Kuon-ji Temple there in 1281. After his remains were interred at the temple the following year, Minobu became the center of the sect's faith and one of its holiest places. However, by the Sengoku Period (1467-1603), temples were not just places of worship but often paramilitary centers in their own right. Yamabushi (mountain warriors) were Buddhist warrior priests who allied with and competed against various secular leaders. Shingen, who borrowed from the Chinese war philosopher Sunzi (554-496 B.C.) the motto "Swift as the wind, silent as the forest, aggressive as fire, immovable as a mountain," was a particularly unforgiving leader who led campaigns of retribution to punish those who had previously stood in his way. While we do not know of a specific rivalry between the Nichiren and Shingen, he did destroy their Jisso-ji Temple in 1568, and three years later advocated for rival Buddhist sects to build temples on Minobu. Perhaps this print was issued to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the destruction of the temple.

Christensen 1981, pp. 114-118 (re: Nichiren)
Keyes 1983, p. 387, no. 246
McMullin 1984, pp. 151-153, 392 (re: Buddhism)
Black et. al. 2005, pp. 61-63 (re: Shingen and Buddhism)