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Picture of the Attack at the Ansong Ford During the Fierce Battle at Asan


Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Attack at the Ansong Ford During the

Fierce Battle at Asan

by Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1894

IHL Cat. #96

About This Print

The Sino-Japanese War, Nathan Chaiken, self-published, 1983, p. 64, illus. p. 127
The battle began shortly after midnight, and the crossing of the stream a most courageous action, since the Japanese were quite unfamiliar with the disposition of the land.  The triptych shows Colonel Fukushima, acting as military adviser, Major-General Oshima Yoshimasa and, in mid-stream, Captain Matsuzaki soon to be killed, leading his men across the water.

Kiyochika is at his very best in such scenes.  His plays with night effect, shadows and illusions in ombres chinoises (puppet shadows), placed him in the forefront among artists engaged in the war.  Whereas his depictions of human beings remind us of wooden Indians – expressionless – and his caricatures simply humiliating, his impressionistic approach to light and shade is superb.  As time went on, he reached an unsurpassed level.  During the Wei-Hai-Wei campaign, he brought out several woodcuts of breath-taking power.

As for Colonel Fukushima (photo left), the Japanese lone rider, his trip from Berlin to Japan deserves a short description. A descendant of a Nahano Province samurai, he was born in Matsumoto in 1852 and he died in 1919 with the title of Marshal. He studied the Dutch war strategy at the Komucho School, followed by years at the future Tokyo Imperial University, called at the time, the Daigaku Nanko College. He entered the Justice Department, and later on, the War Department. Promoted Chui (lieutenant) in 1878 and Shosa (Major) in 1887. He was sent to Berlin (Germany) as military attaché. In 1892, while still in Germany, the Japanese General Staff Office ordered him to return to Japan with the task of surveying every country on his way back, but mainly Russia and Siberia in preparation for an eventual conflict with that country. He left Berlin, riding a half-bred horse named Gaisen (triumphal return). He passed through the cities of Warsaw, Kovno, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Minsk, the extreme north of the Gobi Desert, entered Siberia via Irkoutsk, followed the Oussouri River, and ended his voyage in Vladivostock, after 440 days and about 15,000 kilometers on the way (June 1893).

A Japanese newspaper described his dress: "Over his military overcoat, he wore a fur coat, carried four saddle-bags made of skins, one sextant, a barometer, a map, a sword and a revolver. The weather was freezing, often below zero." Fukushima stated: "I rode daily about seven to nine hours, and sometimes up to twelve hours. Yet I never felt sick or tired. Only two nights did I have some headaches because of the flu, but I never even touched a drop of medication, trying to ride fast in order to sweat”.

In 1894, he was sent to the Korean front to assist and advise Major-General Oshima during the Seikan battle. During the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), he acted again as adviser, attached to the Manchurian Army Headquarters. He was promoted Taisho (Marshal) after the war. His return to Japan was described by Basil Hall Chamberlain as follows: "In 1893, the whole nation went mad over Colonel Fukushima's successful ride across Siberia; a perusal of the newspaper of the time can alone give an idea of the popular frenzy..." (Konishi, Vol. XI, about woodcuts on Fukushima).

Source: Imperial Japan: The Art of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Frederick Baekeland, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 1980, p. 130.
The Sino-Japanese War spurred Kiyochika to produce many triptychs, some of them outstanding.  The best, like this example. Fierce Battle at Asan: The Anson Crossing Attack, are dramatic evocations of small groups of figures seen under special light conditions.  Here the artist makes the most dramatic contrasts between light and dark in a night scene depicting an incident in Korea.  He shows us five mounted officers on a hill watching their troops cross a river while exploding artillery shells light up the farther shore.

On July 27, 1894, before the declaration of war, the Japanese army, led by mixed brigade chief Major General Oshima Yoshimasa, fought and defeated the Chinese at Asan during the crossing to Ansong.  Here, in cartouches with their names, we see two of the participants, Lt. Col. Fukushima (Fukushima Yasumasa, later a full general), on the right, and Brigadier General Oshima (Oshima Yoshimasa).

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description  Picture of the attack at the Ansong Ford during the fierce battle at Asan
(Gazan gekisen Anjo no watashi shingeki no zu 牙山激戦 安城渡進撃之図)
 Artist  Kiyochika Kobayashi (1847-1915)
 Signature  Kiyochika
 Seal  kiyo and chika
 Publication Date  September 1894 (Meiji 27)
 Publisher  Matsuki Heikichi (松木平吉) proprietor of Daikokuya, Nihonbashi-ku
 Edition  likely first edition
 Engraver  Seikodo
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition good - overall light toning; thinning at corners; small tape stains center of margins on each panel
 Genre  ukiyo-e - senso-e (Sino-Japanese War)
 Format  vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper
 14 1/2 x 10 in. (36.8 x 25.4 cm) each sheet
 H x W Image
The Sino-Japanese War, Nathan Chaiken, self-published, 1983, p. 64, illus. p. 127s; Imperial Japan: The Art of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Frederick Baekeland, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 1980, p. 130, fig. 69; Japanese Warrior Prints: 1646-1905, James King and Yariko Iwakiri, Hotei Publishing, 2007, p. 384.
 Collections This Print
The British Library BL Shelfmark 16126.d.3(28); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 2000.241; Harvard University Museums 1944.5.19.1,.2,.3; British Library shelfmark: 16126.d.3(28)