Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Hidesato, New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts


Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: 18. Fujiwara no Hidesato Shooting the Centipede at the Dragon King's Palace
Series: New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts
Publisher: Matsuki Heikichi
Date: 1892
Dimensions: 23.9 x 35.5 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.


A proven warrior during Taira no Masakdo's insurgency in the tenth century, Fujiwara no Hidesato has been called upon by the Dragon King in order to vanquish a giant centipede terrorising the underwater kingdom. Alerted of the monstrous insect's presence, the archer rushes to the palace balcony and prepares his bow. With the first shot unable to penetrate the centipede's body, he aims again. Once more the arrow merely bounces off its skeletal body. Propelled by its myriad legs, the grotesque arthropod crawls closer towards the palace. Unperturbed, Hidesato spits on his third arrowhead and prays. His holy words said and done, he aims and fires. Finally paralysing the nightmarish creature, he proceeds to hack it down, finishing it off once and for all. The Dragon Palace is saved and for his bravery, Hidesato is rewarded greatly with magical gifts bestowed by the Dragon Princess. Of one of these gifts is a bag of never-ending rice, earning him the nickname Tawara Tōda (My Lord Bag of Rice). Rather than focus on the terror of the centipede, Yoshitoshi's focuses on the dignified concentration of the archer readying his bow. The Dragon Princess takes cover behind him, with the marine palace structure emerging from the waves visualising the magical setting.

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839 - 1892)

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka was one of the leading woodblock print artists during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and one of the last to work in the traditional ukiyo-e manner. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he showed a strong interest in classical Japanese literature and history. When he was 11, he became a student at Kuniyoshi Utagawa’s studio. Under his teacher’s guidance, he showed exquisite draftsmanship and learned how to draw from life, something not necessarily part of the training schools of painting and illustration in Japan.

Yoshitoshi’s rise as an artist came at a time when Japan was faced with great changes and challenges. The new Meiji era (1868-1912) brought many conflicts between those loyal to tradition and those wishing to embark on a process of forced modernisation and adoption of western values. These sentiments, along with having witnessed some of the violent uprisings, influenced his early career, with intense, often disturbing images that reflect turmoil and pain. Even so, many other prints from this early period show whimsical touches, with reinterpretation of themes seen in his teacher Kuniyoshi’s works. With deep cultural roots, Yoshitoshi’s style was dynamic and distinctive: he was known for experimentation in style and genre, as well as for his innovative works. He worked on series depicting kabuki actors, bijinga (pictures of beautiful women), warriors, monsters and ghosts. Supernatural themes abound in his later work, showing a fascination for old Japanese folk stories.

The publishing of Yoshitoshi’s most popular series 'One Hundred Aspects of the Moon' commenced in 1885 and spanned a wide variety of subjects, such as warrior, animals, ghosts, natural phenomena, beauties and others. The artist’s early tendency for gore and horror was replaced by images of lyricism, calm, spirituality and psychological depth. 'Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners', published in 1888, shows Yoshitoshi’s ability to portray emotions like no other artist of his time, presenting women of various background and eras in Japanese history, each with distinct traits.

In 1889, the series 'New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts' started to be published, showing images of apparitions, mostly based on folklore and plays, depicted powerfully and imaginatively. This was, perhaps, a catharsis for the artist who claimed to have seen ghosts and strongly believed in supernatural beings. Many of Yoshitoshi’s late works were acclaimed at a time when western techniques of mass production such as photography were making the woodblock obsolete, breaking new ground by portraying intense human feelings through a traditional medium. He became a master teacher and had notable pupils such as Toshikata Mizuno and Toshihide Migita.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistYoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839 - 1892)
SubjectSamurai & Male, Male & Female, Ghosts & Religion
Size23.9 x 35.5 cm
Condition ReportSome brown stains on the lower centre and upper left corner. Glue stains on the back from the previous mounting. Slightly trimmed.
SeriesNew Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts::Yoshitoshi Tsukioka