Utagawa Toyokuni III (Utagawa Kunisada), ‘Sojobo watching Ushiwakamaru sparring with a tengu’, 1856, Scholten Japanese Art

signed Toyokuni ga within artist's Toshidama cartouche, publisher's seal Hon, Ryogoku, Daihei han (Daikokuya Heikichi of Shojudo), with censor's seal aratame (examined) and censor's date seal Tatsu-juichi (year of the dragon [1856], 11th month)

oban tate-e triptych 14 by 28 7/8 in., 35.5 by 73.2 cm

This print illustrates a scene from the pantomime dance, Kuramayama no Danmari (Fight in the Dark at Mount Kurama) showing the legendary general, Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), as a young man when he was known as Ushiwakamaru, training in martial arts and warfare with the tengu of Mount Kurama under the watchful eye of Sojobo, the King of the tengu. Tengu (lit. 'heavenly dogs') were mythical beings thought to be born from giant eggs whose existence was believed in by some well into the 19th century. They are often depicted with beaks and wings, in which case they are karasu tengu (crow tengu). Some like Sojobo himself were called konoha tengu (tumbling leaf tengu) and took on human characteristics, usually with exceptionally long noses like the one Sojobo sports here.

The tengu were fierce warriors and exceptionally skilled fighters. Studying under Sojobo's tutelage, Ushikawamaru became a master of the military arts. The future Yoshitsune would use the skills gained on Mount Kurama to great effect when defeating his future retainer Benkei on Gojo Bridge and then leading his Minamoto allies in their victory over the Taira clan.

Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art

Publisher: Daikokuya Heikichi of Shojudo

John Stevenson, Yoshitoshi's Strange Tales, 2005, pp. 74, 140 (on tengu)

About Utagawa Toyokuni III (Utagawa Kunisada)