Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Omori Hikoshichi, New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts


Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: Omori Hikoshichi Sees a Demon
Series: Selected New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts
Publisher: Sasaki Toyokichi
Date: 1889
Dimensions: 25.2 x 36.9 cm
Condition: Paper partially soiled. Red pigment slightly oxidised.

Most know that ghosts in the West have no reflection in the mirror and no shadow. In Japan, however, a reflection shows the true nature of a supernatural creature.


On his way back from the battle at Minatogawa, Omori Hikoshichi’s gaze fell on a beautiful woman lingering near a stream. The moment he approached her, she curved her lips into a smile and offered her hands in a pleading gesture, asking the gallant samurai to help her cross over. Blood still boiling from the previous battle, he almost welcomed her cold body on his back yet questioned her overbearing weight that crushed him more and more by the second. She grasped his shoulders, head pressing onto his and only when the moon beamed within the water ripples did Omori see her for what she truly was. Water reflected her horns, urging the samurai to reach for his sword. In mere seconds the demon was slain and her attack cut short. Drawing in a sharp breath, Omori watched as her robes submerged into darkness instead of what could have turned out to be his own corpse.


The eeriness of the encounter is emphasised by the pallid glow emanating from the full moon, with the reeds to the left of the composition emerging from the river in wild stylised strokes.

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)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Samurai & Male, Male & Female, Ghosts & Religion
Size25.2 x 36.9 cm
SeriesNew Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts::Yoshitoshi Tsukioka