Choice of Heroes for the Twelve Signs

(Buyû mitate jûnishi, 武勇見立十二支)

Publisher: Minato-ya Kohei



The Buddhist zodiac consists of twelve animals—rat, bull (or ox), tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and boar.  There is a story that only these twelve animals came when called by Buddha, and this is the order in which they came.  These animals, including the rat and serpent, have a better reputation in Buddhist countries than in the West.  In this series of prints, historic and legendary heroes are likened to the twelve animals of the zodiac.  These prints are each about 14 by 5 inches (36 by 13 centimeters), a size known as chûtanzakuban. 



Sign: Rat ()

Hero: Raigô Ajari (頼豪) at the Onjôji Monastery in Midera, turning Buddhist scripture into rats in his disappointment at the Emperor’s disfavor.  Ôye no Masafusa, the emperor’s envoy, looks on in dismay.

Robinson: S17.1


Sign: Ox ()

Hero: The bandit Kidô Maru (鬼童丸) gazing at his own reflection in the water.  He disguised himself in the hide of a water buffalo in order to ambush and kill Raikô.

Robinson: S17.2


I am grateful to Robert Pryor for this alternate state of the above design.


Sign: Tiger ()

Hero: Kashiwade no Omi Hatebe (膳臣巴提便), usually known as Hadesu, fighting the tiger that killed his daughter

Robinson: S17.3


Sign: Hare ()

Hero: Iga Jutarô (伊賀寿太郎), the elderly retainer of Sôma Yoshikado, sacrificing a hare in a Buddhist temple

Robinson: S17.4


NOTE: The clockwise swastika is an ancient Buddhist symbol that represents Buddha’s footprint, as well as plurality, eternity, abundance, prosperity and long life.  It is the mirror image of the counterclockwise swastika adopted by the Nazis.



A later and simplified printing of the above design


Sign: Dragon ()

Hero: Susa-no-o-no-mikoto (素盞雄尊) standing on a rock watching a dragon swimming under water

Robinson: S17.5




Sign: Snake ()

Hero: Nitta Shirô Tadatsune (仁田四郎) with snakes and a vision of the goddess of Mount Fuji

Robinson: S17.6


Sign: Horse ()

Hero: Soga Gorô (曽我五郎) riding from Hakone to Mount Fuji where he and his bother Jurô were to avenged their father’s murder

Robinson: S17.7


Sign: Goat ()

Hero: Kwanu (Kuan Yu, 関羽) seated under a pine tree with a drink in his right hand and a small goat before him

Robinson: S17.8


Sign: Monkey ()

Hero: Songoku (孫悟空), also known as Sun Wu K’ung, king of the monkeys conjuring an army of monkeys from the air to attack his enemy the pig

Robinson: S17.9


Sign: Cock ()

Hero: Kaidômaru (怪童丸), also known as Kintoki, umpiring a fight between a cock and a tengu

Robinson: S17.10


NOTE: Tengu are forest-dwelling creatures that are either human-like with wings and long noses or bird-like.




Sign: Dog ()

Hero: Hata Rokurozaemon (畑六良左ヱ門), a follower of Nitta Yoshisada, armed with a variety of weapons and accompanied by his faithful dog

Robinson: S17.11


Sign: Boar ()

Hero: Emperor Yûryaku Tennô (雄略天皇) by a waterfall on Mount Katsuragi killing a giant boar with his bare hands

Robinson: S17.12


“Robinson” refers to listing in Kuniyoshi: The Warrior-Prints by Basil William Robinson (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1982) and its privately published supplement.