The legendary Chinzei Hachirô Tametomo (1139-70) was seven feet tall, a celebrated archer whose bow was more than eight feet long and required the strength of three ordinary men to bend it. He could shoot arrows — their heads as large as spears — with such force that they could sink an enemy ship. Said to have chased away the god of smallpox, Tametomo's image acquired talismanic powers against the disease, leading to his portrayal in "smallpox prints" (hôsô-e).
The historical Minamoto Tametomo joined his father, the general Tameyoshi, in the seminal Genpei wars. In the first major battle — the Hôgan Incident of 1156 — Tametomo fought against Taira forces led by his brother, Yoshitomo. The victorious Yoshitomo ordered the execution of Tameyoshi and the exile of Tamemoto. During his banishment to the island of Ôshima in Izu, Tamemoto conquered some of the neighboring islands. This brought forth an imperial expeditionary force to hunt him down. With no escape, Tametomo took his own life, said to be the first recorded instance in which a samurai committed ritualistic suicide by cutting open his abdomen (seppuku).
The Tamemoto depicted in Hirosada's print is based on an epic tale written by Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848). It was published in fiction-book format in 29 volumes from 1807-11 under the title "Strange Tales of the Crescent Moon" (Chinsetsu yumihari zuki). In this version, Tamemoto finds refuge in the Ryûkyû Islands. When Tametomo shipwrecks at Okinawa in the Ryûkyû archipelago, he defends Princess Neiwanjo against a minister plotting to take over her throne. He then marries her and fathers a son who becomes the first in a lineage of Okinawan kings, the ancestors of Ashikaga Takaiji (1305-58), who established the Ashikaga shogunate, reigning from 1336 to 1568. Tragedy strikes, however, when Neiwanjo dies. Tametomo then follows her to heaven, leaving their son to rule.
This design is from the series Kômei buyûden (Legendary tales of bravery: 高名武勇傳), a typical titled at the time used by publishers and artists to lend an air of Confucian rectitude to what was a recently banned subject for prints and books — images from the kabuki theater. Ôban prints by Hirosada are very uncommon, especially in such fine condition as the present example.
Provenance: Haber Collection; see Dean Schwaab, Osaka Prints, no. 199 for this same impression.
References: Schwaab OSP, no. 199; KNP-6, p. 499