Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Actors Onoe Matsusuke, Kataoka Gado, Bando Kakitsu, and Onoe Kikugoro
Publisher: Yamamura Hirojiro
Size: (R) 24.8 x 36.5 (C) 24.7 x 36.5 (L) 24.6 x 36.6 cm
Condition: Vertical crease through all three panels. Oxidisation on the middle panel (sword area). Foxing. Light stains on the margins.
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.
Due to the popularity of the pilgrimage and its protective qualities, woodblock prints with heroes under a waterfall are common, more so with actors and other tattooed characters displaying the designs on their skin.