Art Meets Taboo in the Tradition of Japanese Tattoos
signed Yoshitoshi with artist's seal Taiso, engraver's mark Yamamoto, and published by Akiyama Buemon, ca. 1890
oban tate-e 13 7/8 by 9 1/2 in., 35.2 by 24.1 cm
The female vilian depicted in this print was a frequent subject for Yoshitoshi and his teacher, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). The standard legend tells of an old hag who sought to collect the blood of children born in a certain month as a remedy for her sickly lord. The woman scoured the countryside to fulfill her master's needs. There are many adaptations of the story which influenced this composition. In the Noh play Kurozuka (Black Tomb), she gives shelter to two pilgrims on the condition they do not look in a certain room, which unbeknownst to them holds the remains of her victims. The pilgrims' curiosity gets the best of them and they make the foolish mistake of entering the room. The pair escape with their lives only through constant prayer to Buddha. The one-act play Hitotsuya (The Lonely House) by renowned Edo Period (1603-1868) playwright Kawatake Mokuami (1816-1893) also presents a variation of this tale.
Yoshitoshi depicts the hag alone, turning around a corner to inspect her victim's room. Her arm, face, and leg are wrinkled, and her eyes reveal a deep and dark determination. Compositional elements, such as the rope hanging from roof, the straw room divider, a climbing vine, and the woman's withered breasts are represented in most of Yoshitoshi’s depictions of the story.
Series: One Hundred Aspects of the Moon
Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art
Publisher: Akiyama Buemon
John Stevenson, Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 2001, cat. no. 85
Japanese, 1839-1892, Edo, Japan, based in Japan