Kunichika Toyohara, Gangs Enjoying the Party at Oyama, Tattoo Design


Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: The Gangs Enjoying the Party at Oyama
Publisher: Hisanoya Shinzo
Date: 1864
Size: (R) 25.7 x 35.6 cm (C) 25.6 x 35.7 cm (L) 25.8 x 35.7 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Oyama-dera is dedicated to Fudo Myoo and houses a rare image of the deity that dates back to the 13th century. The founder of the mountain as a religious centre is said to be monk Roben who encountered a dragon one day during his meditation. The dragon told the monk that the waterfalls on Oyama had the power to purify all beings and bring enlightenment and protection to them. Oyama thus became a preferred place for pilgrimage for firemen given the mountain’s association with water and fire. They saw the pilgrimage as a ritual of purification and a communion with the spirits. The dragons and koi fish designs on their skin would feel in their element and be blessed by the power of the mountain.

Oyama attracted a large number of visitors from Edo, especially merchants, artisans and fishermen who believed in the healing powers of Fudo Myoo and the dragon deity’s ability to offer protection from fire. The pilgrims going to Oyama would carry a large wooden sword and dedicate it to the shrine.

This print shows pilgrims in a more relaxed atmosphere, most likely after bathing in the waterfall. They are seen having a picnic and enjoying good food and sake. The laid-back figure in the middle panel is particularly striking, as his pose is completely unconventional in this kind of compositions.

More Information
Print Format Triptych
Artist Name Kunichika Toyohara
Title The Gangs Enjoying the Party at Oyama
Subject Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo
Dimensions (R) 25.7 x 35.6 cm (C) 25.6 x 35.7 cm (L) 25.8 x 35.7 cm
Condition Report Crease on the right of left and right panels, minor ink stains.

Kunichika Toyohara

One of the last great masters of ukiyo-e, Kunichika was inspired by the plays, actors and customs of kabuki theatre. His colourful prints are records of a long lost, decadent underworld of Edo. As a young man, he studied with the ukiyo-e artist Chikanobu, from whom he received his artist name. He then apprenticed under Kunisada and began to produce actor prints in the Utagawa style, though he never used the Utagawa name. Unlike most artists of the period, he made use of strong reds and dark purples, often as background colours, rather than the softer colours that had previously been used. These new colours were made of aniline dyes imported in the Meiji period from Germany. When portraying people he only occasionally showed figures wearing Western dress, despite its growing popularity in Japan. He is also one of the best known artists to have designed a great number of prints featuring tattoos, a genre made popular earlier in Edo period by Kuniyoshi Utagawa.