Heroes for the Five Elements

(Buyû go-gyô, 武勇五行)

Publisher: Minato-ya Kohei

1840

The five elements (godai) are wood (ki), fire (hi), earth (tsuchi), metal (kane) and water (mizu).  They do not represent the modern scientific concept of elements as fundamental substances out of which all things are composed.  Rather, they represent categories and concepts to which all things can be likened and by which analysed in a spiritual or philosophical manner.  The five elements can be combined with the dualistic yin-yang system to produce ten stems (jikken).  In this series of prints, historic and legendary heroes are likened to the ten stems.  Robinson had seen only six prints in this series, and it is unlikely that any more exist.  These prints are each about 14 by 5 inches (36 by 13 centimeters), a size known as chûtanzakuban.

 

Element: wood (ki)

Stem: ()

Scene: Bingo Saburô (備後三良) writing a message of encouragement to the captive Emperor Go-Daigô on the trunk of a cherry tree

Robinson: S16.1

 

Element: wood (ki)

Stem: otsu ()

Scene: Satô Tadanobu (佐藤忠信) using a go board as a weapon to resist arrest

Robinson: S16.2

 

Element: fire (hi)

Stem: hei ()

Scene: Kusunoki Masashige ( 正成) seated on a stool watching fox fires on a distant hill

Robinson: S16.3

 

NOTE: In Japanese legend, various supernatural powers are ascribed to foxes, including the ability to transform themselves into people and into flames.  The flames are called fox fires (kitsune bi).

 

 

Element: fire (hi)

Stem: tei ()

Scene: Koga Saburô (甲賀三良) suspended in a basket watching a dragon below

Robinson: S16.4

 

Element: earth (tsuchi)

Stem: ()

Scene: Ôto-no-miya (Prince Morinaga Shinnô) is visited by the murder Fuchibe Yoshihiro while reading the lotus sutra in his cave

Robinson: S16.5

 

Element: earth (tsuchi)

Stem: ki ()

Scene: Matano Gorô Kagehisa and Kawadzu Saburô Sukeyasu (俣野 河津) wrestling with Ebina Gempachi Hirotsuna umpiring

Robinson: S16.6

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

 

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