Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892
Left: Picture of the Bloody Battle of the Brave Generals of the Takeda Clan
(Takeda yusho kessen no zu)
Right: Picture of the Great Battle of Kawanakajima
(Kawanakajima okassen no zu)
at left, signed Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi hitsu, with artist's seal Kiri, carver's seal Hori Kane (Horiko Kanegoro), publisher's seal Bun, Tsujibun han, Yokomayacho Sanchome (Tsujiokaya Bunsuke of Kinshodo), and combined censor and date seal U-roku, aratame (year of the hare , 6th lunar month, examined);
at right, signed Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi hitsu, with artist's seal Kiri, publisher's seal Bun, Tsujibun han, Yokomayacho Sanchome (Tsujiokaya Bunsuke of Kinshodo), and combined censor and date seal U-roku, aratame (year of the hare , 6th lunar month, examined)
oban tate-e hexaptych 14 1/8 by 59 3/4 in., 35.8 by 151.9 cm
The composition is titled twice, once on the right most sheet Picture of the Great Battle of Kawanakajima (Kawanakajima okassen no zu) and once on the left most sheet Picture of the Bloody Battle of the Brave Generals of the Takeda Clan (Takeda yusho kessen no zu). The right triptych was published first, in the 12th lunar month of 1866, while the left triptych is a continuation of the original, published six months later following the commercial success of Kawanakajima okassen no zu. This unique composition depicts one of the great battles of Kawanakajima, fought in the Sengoku Period (1467-1603) between the armies of Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) and Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578). The Kawanakajima Island was located at the confluence of the Chikuma and Sai rivers, a strategic position amidst the plains that lay between the domains of the two daimyo. It would be the site of five major battles between Shingen and Kenshin, in 1553, 1555, 1557, 1561, and 1564. Of these, the best known and most destructive was fought at Hachimanbara in 1561, and is thus often thought to be the definitive of the five battles.
The two frequent enemies were renowned for their military acumen and mutual, if not grudging, respect. Shingen overthrew his unpopular father in 1541, and subsequently dedicated his reign to gaining control of the Shinano Province. Within Shinano was Echigo Province, controlled by Kenshin. Spurred on by other daimyo who had been displaced by the expansive Shingen, Kenshin led the fight against him in what would become one of the most infamous rivalries of Medieval Japan. For a decade, the two warlords fought each other to a draw on the Kawanakajima planes. Save for the battle of Hachimanbara, their engagements tended to feature more maneuvering than actual combat. Their mutual respect was grounded in their shared strategic mastery. In a fondly-remembered episode, Kenshin is said to have sold his rival salt (at market price, mind you) after Shingen's troops ran out, declaring that he fights with the sword, not with salt. The two would never have a decisive confrontation, as they were soon affected by the greater politics of the Sengoku Period, and had to manage the rising powers of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).
Interestingly, elements of the print seemingly allude to a contemporary episode, the shogun's expedition against rebel forces in Choshu Province in 1864 and 1866. The medieval dressed warriors of the foreground seem to give way to uniformed 19th-century soldiers in the background. The final days of the shogunate was marked by instability and violence. During this time, radical elements took control of Choshu Province and used their own highly modernized military to resist increasing trade and westernization. The shogunate's Choshu excursions were roundly unsuccessful, and they were only saved from total embarrassment by the death of the Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi (1846-1866), which provided a respite from fighting through the cover of a policy realignment.
The long-standing policy of the shogunate censors insisted that depictions of contemporary episodes were not printed, hence the need to hide the true subject behind a historical substitute. Yoshitoshi and his publisher, Tsujiokaya Bunsuke (active 1814-1896), may have chosen the Kawanakajima conflict as their stand-in because of the guns and armaments used during that conflict, but contemporary viewers would have recognized the modern dress and intentionally fictitious-sounding names assigned to the 'medieval' warriors. There is an absurdity, if not an intentional artistry, to the juxtaposition of medieval costumes in the foreground with the helmets and trousers of the background. The abstracted gunshots and minimal scenic detailing only heightens this conflict between present and past. The popularity of the print, evidenced by its expansion from three to six panels, speaks to how engrossing these subversive subjects were as well as the appetite to consume materials relating to the first military campaigns to be occurring in Japan for more than two centuries.
Keyes 1983, pp. 108-110, 371, 374, nos. 180, 194
Stevenson 2001, no. 82 (re: salt anecdote)
Jansen 2002, pp. 302-307 (re: Choshu incident)
Turnbull 2013 (re: battle)
Perez (ed.) 2013, p. 424 (re: Shingen and Kenshin)
Iwakiri 2014, pp. 40-41, no. 51
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