Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Narihira, New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts

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Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: 23. Ariwara no Narihira
Series: The New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts
Publisher: Sasaki Toyokichi
Date: 1889-1892
Dimensions: 25.1 x 37 cm
Condition: Very light crease marks. Restored tear bottom left corner. Faint dark smudge on Narihira's clothes.


Yoshitoshi's last woodblock series, New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts, draws on an array of supernatural tales from both China and Japan. The images depict the weird, wonderful, and sinister ghost stories that were widely told among the Japanese population. The eeriness of the series is playfully rendered by the mock-worm eaten border around each print. Interestingly, Yoshitoshi's Thirty-Six Ghost's was produced at a time when the recently established Meiji government actively discouraged anything that contradicted Western science and rationality, leading some critics to regard this series as a criticism of the government's new ideology. These works show that Yoshitoshi still found great inspiration from the rural folk tales that were prevalent throughout Japan's history.


One evening during the constant travels with which he occupied his exile, Narihira took shelter in an abandoned house. The autumn wind rustled the dead leaves, and he was filled with loneliness. As he looked out into the ruined garden, overgrown with grass, he imagined he saw his lover's skull, Ono no Komachi, through whose empty eye-sockets grass was growing. The vision moved him to ponder on the swift passage of human life and to write the poem reproduced in the cartouche.


The poet's robe is beautifully embossed, with skilful gradation of colour on his trousers. A metallic pigment has been used for the flame of the torch, which has now oxidised. The rich robe hanging on the right-hand side and the hat on the floor are a woman's, presumably Ono no Komachi.


'The autumn wind blows,
there is nothing more to say,
grass grows through the eye-sockets of Ono's skull.' - Narihira

More Information
Artist Name Yoshitoshi Tsukioka
Title 23. Ariwara no Narihira
Subject Male & Female, Spirits & Religion
Dimensions 25.1 x 37.0 cm
Series New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts
Publisher Sasaki Toyokichi