Art Meets Taboo in the Tradition of Japanese Tattoos
with a dusting of mica on the upper sheet, with shomen-zuri (printing from the front) burnishing and embossing the texture of a woven fabric on Rochishin's black robe; signed Yoshitoshi, artist's seal Yoshitoshi no in, carved by Negishi Chokuzan, publisher and date seal faded or rubbed out, however, the printing embellishments and crispness of the impression along with the spacing of the faint kanji on the margin (and a comparison of the last few characters under magnification) indicates this appears to be from the earliest edition published by Matsui Eikichi of Kakuhakudo in 1887
oban tate-e vertical diptych 29 1/2 by 10 3/8 in., 75 by 26.3 cm
Rochishin (Lu Chi Shen in Chinese) is an anti-hero from the Suikoden (Tales of the Water Margin), a 16th century collection of stories considered to be one of the classics of Chinese literature. Rochishin, the tattooed subject of the lower sheet, is an outlaw. He was once a police officer named Rotatsu. In that capacity he killed a butcher who had abused his (the butcher's) mistress. The mistress' father advised Rotatsu to take the monk's name Rochishin and retire to the monastery on Mount Godai. Once on the mountain, he became widely feared for robbing merchants and drinking heavily, the latter of which activities was often followed by vomiting and urinating in the temple. After taking time to gather their courage, the monks forced him out of the monastery, at which point Rochishin joined a gang of thieves.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the life of a robber suited him well. He soon returned to the Mount Godai monastery when a rival gang found refuge within the temple walls. In this composition, Yoshitoshi depicts him by the monastery's entrance fiercely dismantling its sacred Nio (Buddhist guardian statue, also called Kongo). The drunken outlaw, whose determination is evident by his gritted face and athletic posture, holds firm beneath a heavy beam and falling green posts. The teetering Nio threatens him from above.
Rochishin is often called the Flower Priest because of the plum blossom tattoos that cover his torso. A surimono print by Totoya Hokkei (1780-1850) from 1832 which depicts Rochishin wrenching a tree from the ground is accompanied by a poem describing the formidable strength of the frequently intoxicated bandit:
hikinuku ude no
kaze no chikara mo
How strong his arm,
the priest of the plum blossom!
Even the spring wind
cannot tug the horse-willow
with the force he displays.
Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art
Publisher: Matsui Eikichi of Kakuhakudo
Akita Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: The Last Ukiyo-e Artist of Genius, 1999, cat. no. 108
James King and Yuriko Iwakiri, Japanese Warrior Prints: 1646-1905, 2007, pp. 197, 214 (re: Hokkei print with poem)
Amy Reigle Newland and Chris Uhlenbeck, Yoshitoshi: Masterpieces from the Ed Fries collection, 2011, cat. no. 90
Yuriko Iwakiri, Yoshitoshi, 2014, cat. no. 218
Japanese, 1839-1892, Edo, Japan, based in Japan