A Teahouse of the August Moon…


Well, not quite. I wanted to look at a new print at the Toshidama Gallery; a superb Yoshikazu image of a teahouse in Yokohama from 1861. It’s an outstanding image, it opens up an impossible series of spaces, bridges, walkways, vistas, rooms within rooms, murals of Chinese waterfalls, and of course westerners in ‘overseas’ gear and hapless and compliant Japanese – recently defeated by the agressive 1858 trade agreement with ‘the five nations’. Of course the teahouse above is not from that time at all, that is the movie poster from the Marlon Brando movie that comically examines the fallout of American occupation post 1945.

Yoshikazu (active 1850-1870) Foreigners Enjoying Themselves in the Gankiro Teahouse. 1861

Yoshikazu (active 1850-1870) Foreigners Enjoying Themselves in the Gankiro Teahouse, 1861

I became fascinated by this triptych of the Gankiro Teahouse from Yoshikazu, and began looking for other images that expand the views suggested by the clashing perspectives and the glimpses of views not fully explained by the drawing. I should like to think that Yoshikazu used this mixture of western and Japanese perspective as a metaphor for the  mixing of cultures in these early efforts at international trade.

The architecture that forms a backdrop to the scenes of cavorting struck me as highly unlikely until I came across the following engraving of the same teahouse from 1874, made by an American artist where no such liberties were taken with the perspective.

Interior of the Gankiro Teahouse 1874

Interior of the Gankiro Teahouse, 1874

In the Yoshikazu print we are up on the first floor – the bannisters on the right are the ones at the top of this print, looking down on the bridge and the carp pool. Better still is a print by Hiroshige the second of the Gankiro Teahouse from the same year as the Yoshikazu but from the same ground floor viewpoint as the American print of a decade or more later. Like the Yoshikazu, the scene is one of bustling trade… the clumsy sailor visible in the background is a comical projection on a paper screen.

Interior of the Gankirō Tea House in Yokohama

Hiroshige II, Interior of the Gankirō Tea House in Yokohama, 1861

When we go upstairs, back to the scene of the Yoshikazu, we see a colourful room in the top far right of the picture… this is the ‘fan room’ of the teahouse. The fan room by all accounts was a major attraction and quite famous. I presume this was a kind of museum display. We get a better look at this room in a print by Yoshiiku also from 1860. In the Yoshiiku the ‘Five Nations’ are represented again dancing and drinking. They are being served by ‘geisha’ and here we have a clearer picture of the fans themselves on a blue background.

Yoshiiku. The Five Nations Enjoying a Revel at the Gankirō Tea House. 1860

Yoshiiku, The Five Nations Enjoying a Revel at the Gankirō Tea House, 1860

The Fan room and the long corridor down the side of the upper floor appears again in the print below also from 1860 and again by Hiroshige II. In this version the same peculiar hybrid architecture is seen as in the Yoshikazu and we are also given a sense of the location of the tea house from the view across the bay at Yokohama.


Hiroshige II, Upper Floor of the Gankiro in Yokohama, 1860

All of these make a nice contrast to a stunning e-sugoroku board that depicts a teahouse in the Japanese Yoshiwara; this traditional teahouse has similar confusing perspectives and a wholly Japanese clientele.

Kunichika. E-sugoroku Board of a Teahouse in the Yoshiwara, Mid - 1860’s

Kunichika, E-sugoroku Board of a Teahouse in the Yoshiwara, Mid – 1860’s

Of course our picture at the top of this post, the poster of Tea House of the August Moon was a play and a movie that promulgated western presumption of Japanese women as exotic, available, promiscuous and so on… albeit in a manner that made the whole business seem jolly and consensual. The last picture in this post is a photograph of the interior of a teahouse from the 1880’s. This perhaps adds a note of realism into the mixed messages of all these images.

A Japanese Teahouse 1880's

A Japanese Teahouse, 1880’s

Posted in Japanese prints, Sugoroku, ukiyo-e, Uncategorized, Yokohama, Yoshiwara | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bandits and Warlords. Fighting men in Japanese prints.

Kuniyoshi, Du Qian, the Sky Toucher. The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden. 1827

The Toshidama Gallery is showing a collection of prints featuring aggressive and violent folk heroes and warlords. The selection looks at how the populace of Edo expressed their frustration with the government and with the increasingly corrupt samurai class. As a consequence, they lionised not only heroic ‘social-justice-warriors’ like Du Qian (above) but also the most reprehensible hooligans like An no Heibei and Hotei Ichiemon, below.

Kunisada, Ichikawa Kuzô III as An no Heibei and Nakamura Fukusuke I as Hotei Ichiemon

Kunisada, Ichikawa Kuzô III as An no Heibei and Nakamura Fukusuke I as Hotei Ichiemon, 1855

Du Quian was one of the Chinese Heroes of the Water Margin, 108 rebels who sought refuge in the margins of Liangshan Marsh in the 12th century.  These rebel warriors sought to protect the poor and downtrodden, very much like Robin Hood’s band of outcasts in medieval England. In fact they were probably far more terrifying and considerably less altruistic than they are portrayed. Kuniyoshi here shows the collossal strength of the legendary hero… literally assaulting the walls of power – an appropriate meme for our times!

Less noble by far is the story of the  two characters in the Kunisada print above. These young men were hooligans from the infamous Band of Seven, who became the legendary Five Men of Naniwa, their hapless, ruinous lives of ignominy transformed by eager playwrights into heroic men fighting for their own freedom, the liberty of their streetwalker fiancés and of course for common decency. Once safely out of the way – they were beheaded at the execution grounds in 1702 for stabbing and robbing an innocent shopkeeper – their lives were rehabilitated, conflated with heroes like the Soga Brothers and their images commemorated on woodblock prints and souvenirs. The awful reality of their ends can be seen on this page at the website Japanthis.

Yoshitoshi, Habakari Yūkichi reading by a lantern from Biographies of Modern Men. 1865.

Yoshitoshi, Habakari Yūkichi reading by a lantern from Biographies of Modern Men. 1865.

The handsome Yoshitoshi above picks up a similar theme… In 1849, there were two gambling rings led by rival gangsters. The toughest was led by Lioka Sukegoro. The smaller led by Hanzo Sukegoro. Yoshitoshi’s series glorifies the struggle between these two gangs and commemorates the individual gang members – such as Yukichi above – and devotes an entire sheet to each man. The details of their lives would have been available in the broadsheets of the time and the populace considered them tremendous heroes. The feud continued to be a favourite story going as far as being made into a movie – The Tale of Zatoichi – in 1962!

A Scene From the Tale of Zatoichi 1962

A Scene From the Tale of Zatoichi 1962

Benten is another such anti-hero, superbly realised in Yoshitoshi’s very early and very rare print of 1862. A kabuki drama, loosely based in fact describes the usual hapless journey from petty thieving to accidental violence via the inevitable street-walker girlfriend and final showdown with the authorities. Benten kozo appears in the play, Aoto Zôshi Hana no Nishikie, which premiered in 1862. There followed a flurry of woodblock prints and it is instructive to compare the Yoshitoshi below to the Kunisada to which it bears an obvious similarity.

Kunisada, Benten Kozo. 1862

Kunisada, Benten Kozo. 1862

Let’s not think that it’s only men who are capable of extreme violence! The Toshidama Gallery exhibition is also showing another Yoshitoshi of the warrior heroine Tomoe Gozen, seen despatching the Taira warrior Musashi Saburoemon Arikuni in a fight from the northern campaign of Minamoto no Yoshinaka during the Genpei Wars of the late twelfth century. For these prints and others on this theme, visit the Toshidama Gallery from 27th September for one month.


Posted in Asian Art, Floating World, Japanese Art, Japanese gangster, Japanese prints, japanese woodblock prints, kabuki theatre, Kunisada, Kuniyoshi, Male Tragedy, Otokodate, Suikoden, yoshitoshi | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugoroku Magic – Narukami shonin

Narukami shonin

Narukami shonin

Below the great rat of Yoshitaka on the sugoroku board we are featuring, is this splendid figure in feiry robes and clouds of smoke. It is the magician Narukami. Narukami lived in a hermitage near a waterfall in which he has has imprisoned the dragon god. The land was suffering from drought and so the Emperor sent a beautiful Princess to break the curse and restore the rainfall. When she arrived at the monastry she met Narukami’s servants, Hakuunbo and Kokuunbo, who immediately fell under her spell.

Narukami and Princess Taema

Narukami and Princess Taema

She tells them she has come to pray for her late husband and to wash one of his garments since there is no water in the capital. The acolytes and Narukami listen entranced as she goes into intimate and sensuous detail about how she met her husband and how they made love. Narukami feels faint from listening to the story and falls off the veranda of his room. Princess Taema revives him by transferring water from her lips to his. She seduces Narukami when they are alone and he reveals that the dragon god remains imprisoned as long as the sacred rope across the waterfall is intact. When Narukami falls into a drunken stupor, Princess Taema creeps away and cuts the rope. She escapes as thunder and lightning fill the sky and rain pours down. When Narukami revives, his anger at being tricked transforms him into a thunder god and we see him in a final pose wearing a costume covered in orange-red flames and glaring in the direction his seductress has fled.

Posted in Edo, Floating World, ghosts, Japanese Demon, Kunisada, Magical, supernatural Japanese print, Toshidama Gallery., ukiyo-e, ukiyo-e art | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sugoroku Magic – Shimidzu no Kwanja Yoshitaka

Shimidzu no Kwanja Yoshitaka

From A Kunichika Sugoroku – Shimidzu no Kwanja Yoshitaka

What a spendid rat! The magician riding along here is not Nikki Danjo – the great kabuki villain who transforms into a rat in order to steal a valuable scroll – this chap is Shimidzu no Kwanja Yoshitaka. He was the son of Yoshinaka, who had sent him as a hostage to Yoritomo (the Shogun) during the Heike war.

The political intrigue of the twelfth century saw Yoshinaka betrayed, exiled and hunted down after the battle of Awazu. In an attempt to kill himself he became lost in the frozen marshes of Omi Province and was killed by a party of foot soldiers.

Shimidzu no Kwanja Yoshitaka attempted to avenge the betrayal of his father by killing the Shogun, but failed, and was beheaded. According to legend, the spirit of a friendly Yamabushi (mountain hermit) took the shape of a giant rat to help him in his enterprise, albeit  ineffectively. The picture below is once again (for this series of posts) from Kunisada’s A Contest of Magic Scenes – one of his great last series from 1864. The influence is very clear… the smoke and the overall arrangement.

Kunisada. Yoshitaka from A Contest of Magic Scenes 1864

Kunisada. Yoshitaka from A Contest of Magic Scenes 1864

It is a popular image in ukiyo-e, Kuniyoshi illustrated the story in an 1845 series on the Sixty Provinces of Japan. The story is now more or less forgotten and survives really only in these  prints.


Kuniyoshi 60 Odd Provinces: Shimidzu no Kwanja Yoshitaka. 1845

Posted in Edo, Floating World, Japanese Art, Japanese prints, japanese woodblock prints, kabuki theatre, Kunichika, Magical, supernatural Japanese print, Toshidama Gallery. | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Sugoroku Magic – Jiraiya

Jiraiya and Magic Toad from a Sugoroku Compendium, 1870

Jiraiya and Magic Toad from a Sugoroku Compendium, 1870

This picture is from our current ongoing series of magicians and ghosts all taken from squares on a nineteenth century sugoroku board by the artist Kunichika. This picture is the fourth square from the left on the top row and if you look at the board itself, you will see that these two characters share a great cloud of supernatural smoke with another magician, conjuring a rat.

Well, the child above is riding on the back of a gigantic toad, the toad not looking overjoyed. The boy holds onto the robes of a standing figure who it turns out is a master magician and will teach the boy – Jiraiya – the secrets of toad magic.

Kunisada. Jiraiya and Ayame

Kunisada. Jiraiya and Ayame. 1852

Jiraiya of course  is the toad riding magical character of the Jiraiya Gōketsu Monogatari  (The Tale of the Gallant Jiraiya). The story was adapted into a 19th-century serial novel, a kabuki drama, several films, video games and a manga. In the legend, Jiraiya is a ninja who uses shapeshifting magic to change into a gigantic toad. As the heir of the mighty Ogata clan. Jiraiya fell in love with Tsunate, a princess who has mastered slug magic. His arch-enemy was his one-time follower Yashagoro, later known as Orochimaru, a master of snake magic. The picture above shows the adult Jiraiya with another character from the play, Ayame, his estranged sister. In order to create a poison that will avenge the family, Ayame must fatally stab herself and Jiraiya must use her blood to kill Yashagoro.

 As a youth, Jiraiya was rescued by the hermit, Senso Dôjin; pictured below:

Sadanobu Ichikawa Ebizo V as Senso Dojin. 1854

Sadanobu Ichikawa Ebizo V as Senso Dojin. 1854


Most people are naturally puzzled by the idea of toad magic let alone slug magic… there is an explanation. The game of Ken is played in Japan in a similar way to Rock, paper, scissors. Ken games are played with three hand gestures, named sansukumi-ken, which translates into “ken of the three who are afraid of one another.” The “toad” is represented by the thumb and that wins against the “slug” represented by the little finger, which, in turn defeats the “snake” represented by the index finger, which in turn wins against the “frog“. The game originated in China where the centipede was the slug and was thought able to kill the snake. The picture underneath is the oldest known representation of the game from 1809. The play of Jiraiya was a construct upon this practical idea.


It can be easily spotted that Kunichika used a previous design by Kunisada as the model for his own Jiraiya:

Kunisada. Jiraiya and Toad, 1850’s.

Kunisada. Jiraiya and Toad, 1850’s.


Posted in Asian Art, Edo, Floating World, Japanese Art, kabuki theatre, Kunichika, Kunisada, Magical, Sugoroku, Toshidama Gallery., ukiyo-e, ukiyo-e art | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugoroku Magic – Princess Yuki

Scan copy

Princess Yuki from a Sugoroku Board by Kunichika – 1860’s

The image above is the top centre panel from an amazing Sugoroku game board designed by the artist Toyoharu Kunichika in the 1860’s. You can see the whole board at the Toshidama Gallery website by clicking this link: Sugoroku Board.

The gallery gives plenty of information about the game and how the board works; these posts are about the individual squares and what they mean.

The Daimyo, Daizen is one  of the famous villains from kabuki theatre and one of the famous scenes in which he appears is the one pictured here, a tremendous game of go performed during the play, Kinkakuji.


A Scene from Gion Sairei Shinkoki

The image above is of the same scene from a contemporary performance. The website, kabuki A – Z provided the image. The powerful and wicked warlord – in the big wig – has killed the shogun and captured his mother. He lives in great luxury indulging his passion for the board game go. Tokichi arrives and challenges him to a game and wins… further challenges reveal Tokichi to be a master strategist. Princes Yuki – seen in the pictures above is a captive of Daizen, but she escapes his clutches by conjuring mice that she has drawn with her toes in the sand, commanding them to gnaw through the ropes that bind her. Tokichi it turns out has been sent to rescue her and kill the wicked Daizen.

A full account of the plot can be found at the terrific site kabuki21 . The presence of the scene on a sugoroku of magical scenes is presumably because Yuki-hime is a magician and conjurer a fact possibly signified by the spider web drawn in the background. Daizen is pictured on the left and Tokichi is seen on the right of the table.

Posted in Floating World, japanese woodblock prints, kabuki theatre, Kunichika, Sugoroku, supernatural Japanese print | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugoroku Magic – Unryu-kuro

Sugoroko Unryu-Kuro

Sugoroko image – No 21. Unryu-Kuro

This tremendous image of a magician floating on a magical cloud-dragon is the neighbour of the image of the Ghost of Seigen – the previous entry- from the stunning supernatural Sugoroku board we are showing at the Toshidama Gallery… the swirling clouds of the dragon in fact support the struggling figures of Sakura and Seigen on the complete print.

The subject is a little known magician; Unryu-kuro. In this context the first name in fact simply means ‘Cloud-dragon‘… the second part of the name refers to the summoner, here seen riding in heroically clutching a sacred sword wrapped in richly embroidered cloth. There are two other prints that feature this character that I am aware of; the earliest that I can find occurs in one of the best Edo print series by the artist Kunisada; A Contest of Magic Scenes by Toyokuni, from 1863/1864.

Kunisada; Kawarazaki Gonjūrō I as Unryū Kurō

Kunisada; Kawarazaki Gonjūrō I as Unryū Kurō. 1864

He reappears in one of Kunichika’s best series, Magic in the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac from 1877. In that print, Kunichika pictures the actor Bando Hikosaburo V as Unryu Kuro closely following the Kunisada print of the same subject.

Kunichika Magic in the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac: Dragon - The actor Bando Hikosaburo V as Unryu Kuro

Kunichika. Magic in the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac: Dragon – Unryu Kuro, 1877.

Unryu Kuro is also the main character in the novel Unryu Kuro Chutoden by the well known Edo comic novelist Rakutei Saiba. The book appeared in two volumes in 1858 and two pages from the original ehon are shown below:

Unryu Kuro Chutoden

Pages from Unryu Kuro Chutoden. 1858




There is no record of a kabuki performance of the book or indeed the character and hence putting the actor in the guise of the magician is purely fanciful.


Posted in Edo, Floating World, ghosts, Japanese Demon, japanese woodblock prints, Kunichika, Sugoroku, supernatural Japanese print, Toshidama Gallery., ukiyo-e art, Woodblock print | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment