Abe no Hirafu (c. 575 – 674), fighting a great bear in the snow

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
1839 - 1892
Abe no Hirafu (c. 575 – 674), fighting a great bear in the snow

Woodblock print, nishiki-e
Vertical ôban, 365 x 247 mm
Signed: Oju Yoshitoshi hitsu, and red Taiso seal
Publisher: Funazu Chūjirō
Dated: Meiji 13 (1880)

Series: Mirror of Famous Commanders of Great Japan
Dai Nippon Meishô Kagami

Very fine impression of the first edition, fine colour and condition, uncut margins.

Abe Hirafu was an early medieval commander from Japanese history who appears in the 8th-century Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki). In the service of Empress Saimei, Abe Hirafu commanded 180 ships to subdue the northeastern Emishi peoples. After the conclusion of the conflict, Hirafu brought two brown bears and seventy bear hides to the Imperial court.

Yoshitoshi depicts an episode from the Nihon shoki in which the warrior subdues one such bear. The focus of the print is really the bear itself: the massive creature fills the composition, even breaking through its borders and spilling into the margin.

Another impression is at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accession number: 11.18096).