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Gion District from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Rising Moon Over Mount Nanping – Cao Cao from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Gion District

from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1885

Gion District from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon
IHL Cat. #1375

About This Print

Standing outside the gate of the Ichikiri teahouse, young Rikiya, son of Yuranosuke, the leader of the Forty-Seven Loyal Samurai, looks warily around.  He has a secret letter for his father with the details of their plot to kill Lord Moronao who they blame for their master's death.   This scene is from ACT VII, "The Ichikiri Teahouse," in the play Revenge of the Forty-Seven Loyal Samurai (Kanadehon Chūshingura).  As Stevenson explains below, the full moon will light the way for their subsequent attack on Moronao's mansion and his beheading.

This collection's print is from a bound album, created by the publisher, of the entire series of one hundred prints.

To read more about the representations of Chūshingura in woodblock prints see the article on this site Chūshingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) in Woodblock Prints.

The Story Depicted in the Print as Told by John Stevenson

Source: Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001.

4. The Gion district


Shown here is a scene from one of the most popular of all Kabuki plays, Kanadehon Chūshingura, literally “The Syllabary List of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers,” more commonly known in the West as “The Forty-seven Ronin.”  Rōnin means “wave man” and indicates a masterless samurai.

This sensational tale of revenge is based on actual events that took place between 1701 and 1703.  Lord Asano, an inexperienced country nobleman at the palace of the shogun in Edo, was required to receive an imperial envoy from Kyoto.  Lord Kira, an expert in court ceremony, was assigned to assist him, but Asano failed to give him the accustomed bribe.  Kira taunted Asano for his lack of sophistication until Asano lost his temper, drew his sword, and wounded Kira.  For the crime of drawing a weapon in the palace, the shogun ordered Asano to commit suicide.  Two years later, Asano’s retainers avenged their master by killing Kira and laying his head at Asano’s tomb.  They were then all obliged to commit suicide themselves.

These events captured the public imagination and within three years the first of many dramatizations of the events had been written and performed.  To comply with government regulations prohibiting the portrayal of contemporary or sensitive events, the play was set in the fourteenth century at the palace of Shogun Takauji in Kyoto.  The names of the principal characters were changed: Asano became En’ya Hangan, Kira became Kō no Moronao – both historical characters – while the leader of the band of masterless samurai was called Oishi Yuranosuke.

The design is taken from Act VII of the play.  The scene is set outside the Ichikiri teahouse in the Gion district, an entertainment area on the east bank of the Kamo river in Kyoto.  The Ichikiri is still operating, and as a result of the story of the Forty-seven Ronin is probably the best-known teahouse in Japan today.

Yuranosuke has made his headquarters in the teahouse, where he is pretending to live a dissolute life in order to lull Moronao into a false sense of security.  Yuranosuke’s son, called Rikiya in the play, is delivering a letter from En’ya’s wife, Lady Kaoyo, to his father which contains news of the conspirators’ activities.  He cannot deliver the letter openly – he looks around him while knocking his sword guard against its sheath to gain his father’s attention.

The young man stands on a flagstone path, near a stone lantern in the garden of the elegant teahouse.  Only seventeen, he still wears a boy’s long forelocks, as he does in the play.  His short coat has an abbreviated version of the jagged black-and-white design that became the symbol of the Forty-seven Ronin.  His serious expression and obvious youth make his fate, as the youngest conspirator to die for his loyalty, doubly poignant.  The wide brushstrokes representing the trees and the roof of the teahouse have been expertly reproduced by the engraver, including areas of “flying white” left by the artist’s fast-moving brush.  The grain of the woodblock adds texture to the night sky.

This is not a particularly significant moment in the play, nor does the moon play any role at this point in the story, although it is crucial for the final episode.  Yoshitoshi’s audience would have known the play thoroughly, however, and would have enjoyed recognizing the minor scene.

Image from Publisher's Bound Album (Issued shortly after Yoshitoshi's death)

About the Series "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon"
For details about this series which consists of one hundred prints with the moon as a unifying motif, see the article on this site Yoshitoshi, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #1375
 Title Gion District (Gion machi  祇園まち)
 Series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki hyaku sugata 月百姿)
 John Stevens Reference No.*
 Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)
 Yoshitoshi 芳年
 Seal Taiso 大蘇
 Date October 1885 (御届明治十八年十月 日)
 Edition Likely from a bound album.
 Publisher Akiyama Buemon (秋山武右エ門) [Marks: seal 26-132; pub. ref. 005]
エ 圓活 carving by Enkatsu
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition excellent - original backing
 Genre ukiyo-e
 Format oban
 H x W Paper 14 3/16 x 9 5/8 in. (36 x 24.4 cm)
 H x W Image
 13 x 8 13/16 in. (33 x 22.4 cm)
 Collections This Print Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art S2003.8.3020; Yale University Art Gallery 2011.143.1.4; The British Museum 1906,1220,0.1394; Tokyo Metropolitan Library 加4722-68 and 5333-60-68; Hagi Uragami Museum (Yamaguchi, Japan) UO1505; The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 401-0491; Ritsumeikan University Art Research Center AcNo. arcUP2023; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria 258.2012.4
 Reference Literature * Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001, pl. 4.
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