Midnight moon at mount Yoshino: Iga No Tsubone

Tsukiyoka Yoshitoshi
Edo 1839 – Tokyo 1892
Midnight moon at mount Yoshino: Iga No Tsubone
Yoshinoyama yahan tsuki, Iga No Tsubone

Woodblock print, nishiki-e
Vertical ōban, 365 x 244 mm
Signed: Yoshitoshi, and red artist’s seal Yoshitoshi no in
Publisher: Akiyama Buemon
Series: One Hundred Aspects of the Moon - Tsuki hyakushi

Fine impression with karazuri; very good colour and condition, full margins.

Another fine impression of the print is in the British Museum, number 1906,1220,0.1441

This print depicts the Court Lady, Iga no Tsubone, fearlessly confronting the ghost of Kiyotaka. Having appeased it, the spirit never manifested itself again.

The subject was inspired by a historical event. In 1336 Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339) was advised by Sasaki Kiyotaka, a courtier with little military experience, to fight the rebelling forces of Ashikaga Takauji (1305-58). Iga no Tsubone’s father-in-law, Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1336) argued against this, but Kiyotaka's view prevailed. During the ensuing battle of Minatogawa, Masashige was beaten and committed suicide (see also colour ill. 3). As a result the Emperor was forced to flee to his retreat on mount Yoshino and Kiyotaka was ordered to commit suicide, after which his ghost began haunting the Emperor.

Iga no Tsubone, was renowned for her strength of character. She confronted the ghost of the man who had instigated her father-in-law's suicide and succeeded in driving it away. She had previously distinguished herself by uprooting a tree to cross the river Yoshinogawa, and did so while carrying the Empress Renshi on her back. It is therefore hardly surprising that she was credited for banishing Kiyotaka's malevolent ghost.

The brilliance of this design is determined by two factors: first, Yoshitoshi's depiction of Kiyotaka's winged ghost; and second, the striking figure of Iga no Tsubone in her voluminous red court robe, its length complemented by her long black mane of hair. Even among Yoshitoshi's varied oeuvre, few prints equal the impact of this design on the viewer. For another impression of this print in which – as in our impression – the red of Iga no Tsubone's dress has not oxidized, see the front cover (54.14a).

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Yoshitoshi was one of the last great masters, and one of the great innovative and creative geniuses of the Japanese woodblock print. At the age of eleven, he was enrolled as a student of the school of Kuniyoshi. His early work is full of extremely graphic violence and death, perhaps mirroring the lawlessness and violence of Japan around him, which was simultaneously going through the breakdown of the feudal system imposed by the Tokugawa shoguns, as well as the impact of the West. By 1871, Yoshitoshi became severely depressed. Unable to work, he hardly produced any prints for two years. In 1873 he recovered from his depression and changed his name to Taiso, which means great resurrection. In 1882 he was employed by a newspaper. This gave him a steady income and marked the end of years of poverty. His last years were among his most productive, not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of artistic quality. In 1885 the first designs of One Hundred Aspects of the Moon were published. This series was extremely popular. In 1888 the series 32 Aspects of Customs and Manners was published, a series of women's prints. In 1889 a new series with ghost subjects came on the market: New Form of 36 Ghosts. The symptoms of mental illness became more and more frequent. Nevertheless Yoshitoshi continued to work. He died in 1892 from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 53.

Other works of the master