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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Arashi Rikan II as Chinzei Hachirô Tametomo and Iwai Shijaku I as Neiwanjo in Shimameguri tsuki no yumihari, Naka Theater, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
Artist: (R) Hokuei; (L) Fumoto no yuki; Block Cutter: (R) surimono hori Kasuke
Ya (Matsubaya?)
(H x W)
Oban diptych nishiki-e
37.0 x 51.0 cm
Very good (deluxe edition with metallics)
Very good color; Moderately good condition (slight soil and a few small stains; vertical album fold at shared edges; very slightly trimmed; a few small repaired wormholes, mostly in the sea along adjacent vertical edges, and in the clouds; some rubbed paper along bottom edge)
Price (USD/¥):
SOLD (Ref #HKE04)

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 Tametomo. During his banishment to the island of Ôshima in Izu, Tametomo 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 Tametomo depicted in Hokuei'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, Tametomo 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.


Hokuei's diptych depicts the first meeting between Tametomo and Neiwanjo. The princess rides upon a water buffalo as she approaches Tametomo on the Okinawan shore. Seated on a rock, the warrior holds his battle fan (gunsen), grips his sheathed sword (katana), and raises one leg in a posture of readiness. The figures are isolated against an unusually conceived seascape, with a gently rolling sea, ruler-straight horizon line, and repeated groupings of stylized cloud plumes. The latter show the influence of Occidental art and, in particular, the works of Katsushika Hokusai, for a brief time the teacher of Hokuei's master, Shunkôsai Hokushû.

The celebrated block cutter Kasuke has handstamped his seal on each sheet. There are other impressions with slight color variations in Tametomo's robes, or with the publisher and block cutter seals omitted.

Note: This is an important design in the oeuvre of Hokuei, and rarely available for acquisition.

References: KNP-6, p. 266; TWOP, p. 130; SCH, no. 158