Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, ‘New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts: Picture of Priest Raigo of Mii Temple Transforming into a Rat by his Wicked Thoughts’, 1891, Scholten Japanese Art

carver's seal Chokuzan, and publisher's date seal Meiji nijushinen, -gatsu, -ka; Sasaki Toyokichi (Meiji 24 [1891]) of Sasaki Toyokichi

The spirit of the vengeful priest Raigo turning into a thousand rats and infesting Mii Temple is adapted from an episode in The Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari). Raigo had been a member of the influential Fujiwara family and was a spiritual advisor to Emperor Shirakawa (1053-1159). After Raigo's guidance produced the birth of a male offspring, Prince Atsuhisa, Shirakawa offered Raigo anything he wanted as a reward. Raigo asked not for himself but for a raised platform on which prayers could be offered at his temple. The Emperor, leery of empowering the temple, reneged on his promise and refused Raigo's request. Infuriated, the now vengeful Raigo went on a hunger strike and ignored the Emperor's many attempts at reconciliation. After his death, Raigo's ghostly visage appeared by little Atsuhisa's bedside and damned the Prince to die, before the spirit turned into the many rats and inundated the temple.

Monastic politics were of great concern to the secular leaders of Medieval Japan. Monastic orders in their mountain temples were often paramilitary organizations whose monks were referred to as yamabushi (mountain warriors). While some were fiercely independent and concerned with self-defense, others were aligned with daimyo and often consequential in determining the balance of power between different lords and families.

Publisher: Sasaki Toyokichi

Highlights of Japanese Printmaking: Part Five - Yoshitoshi, Scholten Japanese Art, New York, 2017, cat. no. 108

About Tsukioka Yoshitoshi