Utagawa Toyokuni III (Utagawa Kunisada), ‘Ushiwakamaru and Benkei’, ca. 1835, Scholten Japanese Art

signed Kochoro Kunisada ga, publisher's seal Hei (Omiya Heihachi), ca. 1835

oban tate-e diptych 15 by 20 1/2 in., 38 by 52 cm

This composition depicts the famous battle between Ushiwakamaru (a.k.a. Minamoto no Yoshitsune, 1159-1189) and his future retainer Musashibo Benkei (d. 1189) on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. Benkei, in the right sheet, has collected 999 of the 1,000 sword tips he needs to forge an invincible weapon. He approaches the teenage Ushiwakamaru, expecting an easy confrontation and the conclusion of his quest. Ushiwakamaru, however, has other ideas. He throws his fan to distract Benkei and leaps into a martial position. Soon, Benkei is defeated and has pledged his loyalty to the young warrior. After years of fighting together, notably through the many battles against the Taira clan (retold in the Heike Monogatari, or The Tales of the Heike) they die together, betrayed by Ushiwakamaru's brother Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1189.

Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art

Publisher: Omiya Heihachi

About Utagawa Toyokuni III (Utagawa Kunisada)