Mirror of the Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety

(Nijshi-k dji kagami, 二十四孝童子鑑)

Publisher: Wakasa-ya Yoichi (若狭屋与市)



Many of the images in this series appear Western in style, rather than Japanese, and were probably copied from Italian prints. Robinson lists only fourteen prints in this series, and it is likely that the total number of designs is substantially fewer than twenty-four. These prints are each about 10 by 14 inches (25 by 36 centimeters), a size known as ban. Two different seals of the publisher Wakasa-ya Yoichi are used in this series.


Japanese name: Taishun (大舜)

Chinese name: Ta Shun (Dashun)

Legend: Despite a neglectful father who favored his cruel step-mother and her son, Taishun cultivated land for his parents on Mount Li, where elephants and birds helped him with the difficult task. According to legend, Taishun eventually became emperor of China.

Robinson: S13.1

This is an example of the other known edition of the above print. The patterns of bokashi (graded coloration) in the foreground, sky and hills are very different.

These engravings by Johan Nieuhof (1618-1672) were probably used as models for the preceding print. Kuniyoshi is known to have had access to a book of Johan Nieuhofs engracings, and may never have actually seen an elephant.

Japanese name: Ms (孟宗)

Chinese name: Mng Tsung (Meng Zong)

Legend: Ms fulfilled his sick mothers wish to eat bamboo shoots in mid-winter by journeying to a snow covered bamboo grove, where after praying, he miraculously found a huge cache of delicious bamboo shoots beneath the snow. Here he is carrying a hoe through the snow.

Robinson: S13.2

This is a badly faded print of the same design. It illustrates the principle that different colored inks fade at different rates. The natural colorants used for the reds, yellows and browns are barely visible, whereas the blues and blacks are virtually unchanged. The blue pigment is the chemical, ferric-ferrocyanide, an early import into Japan. It is known as Prussian blue in English and as either bero or bero-ai in Japanese. The Japanese names are derived from Berlin Kuniyoshi - Mirror of the 24 Paragons of Filial Piety (S13.13), Gomo carrying a smoking vessel to ward off mosquitoes.

This is an example of another state of the above design. The patterns of bokashi (graded coloration), especially in the foreground, are very different.

Japanese name: Binshiken (閔子騫)

Chinese name: Min-tzu-chien

Legend: Binshiken entreated his father to have mercy on the formers new stepmother after his father found out that Binshiken was being mistreated. Here Binshiken is sweeping snow outside the house where his stepmother stands with her two younger biologic children.

Robinson: S13.3


Image courtesy of Marie de Strycker

This is a key block print of the above design. It is an impression pulled from the first woodblock made by a carver from the artists original drawing. The artist would then indicate the desired colors on a key block print, and a woodblock for each color was cut using a key block print as a guide. Registration marks (kento) are characteristically found on Japanese key block prints, seen here on the bottom, near the right edge. Kento are cut in each woodblock, so that the paper can be properly aligned on each woodblock during printing. In addition to being a guide for carving the color woodblocks, the key block was also used to apply black ink (usually) in the printing process.

Note that this key block print is missing the square publishers seal from the left lower corner and has the round seal of the censor Takano Shin'emon added next to Kuniyoshis signature. The latter indicates that this key block print was made in 1842-1843 for a second edition.

Japanese name: Sshin (曾参)

Chinese name: Tsng Tsan (Zeng Can)

Legend: Sshin was gathering wood in the forest one day when his mother back at home bit her own finger in anger at her sons absence. Feeling his mothers pain, he immediately returned home. Here Sshin is hurrying home across a bridge to aid his mother (in the foreground).

Robinson: S13.4

Japanese name: sh (王祥)

Chinese name: Wang Hsiang

Legend: When his stepmother wanted to eat fresh fish in mid-winter, sh went to a frozen pond and lay naked on the ice until it melted in order to catch fish for her. Here he is fishing in the snow with two relatives admiring the fish he has just caught.

Robinson: S13.5


Image courtesy of Richard Illing

Japanese name: Rraishi (老来子)

Chinese name: Lao Lai Tzu

Legend: At age 70, Rraishi still dressed and behaved like a young child to amuse his senile parents. Here he is playing with childrens toys.

Robinson: S13.6

Japanese name: Kyshi (姜詩)

Chinese name: Chiang Shih (Jiang Shi)

Legend: Kyshi, along with his wife, traveled great distances to get good water and fresh carp desired by his aged mother. However, one day a fresh spring suddenly bubbled up in their own garden and provided excellent water as well as fish. Here Kyshi is netting a fish in the river that formed outside his mothers cottage.

Robinson: S13.7

These are two simplified and less labor intensive later printing of the above design. The delicate shading (bokashi) in the sky, horizon, mountain, roofs and water has been simplified or eliminated. Bokashi was achieved by hand-applying a gradation of ink to the wooden printing block rather than inking the block uniformly. This hand-application had to be repeated for each sheet of paper that was printed. Although not bokashi, the complex pattern of two solid colors for the rocks and earth in the foreground has also been simplified.

Japanese name: T-fujin (唐夫人)

Chinese name: Tang Fu-jn (Tang Furen)

Legend: T-fujin (also known as wife Tang) suckled her toothless grandmother at her breasts.

Robinson: S13.8

Japanese name: Yo Ko (楊沓)

Chinese name: Yang Hsiang (Yang Xiang)

Legend: Yo Ko at 14 years of age was accompanying his father into the mountains when a hungry tiger leapt out at them. Without thinking of his own life, Yo Ko protectively jumped in front of his father and thus scared off the tiger with his show of determined will.

Robinson: S13.9

Japanese name: To Ei (董永)

Chinese name: Tung Yung (Dong Yong)

Legend: To Ei indentured himself to a weaver in order to raise money for his fathers burial. One day he met a woman who, in the first hour after their marriage, wove enough silk to fulfill the terms of his contract and then revealed herself to be the Heavenly Weaver (Shokujo) before ascending to heaven.

Robinson: S13.10


Image courtesy of Richard Illing

Another state of the above design

Japanese name: Kwakkyo (郭巨)

Chinese name: Kuo Ch (Guo Ju)

Legend: Kwakkyo, lamenting the fact that his aged mother was going hungry because food was being eaten by his infant son, prepared to kill the baby. While digging the grave he discovered a pot of gold with an attached note (or inscription) that the treasure was meant for him.

Robinson: S13.11

Another state of the above print

Yet another state

A key block print for the above design. The L in the left lower corner and the bar on the right side of the bottom are registration marks (kento).

Japanese name: Rikuseki (陸績)

Chinese name: Lu Chi (Lu Ji)

Legend: When Rikuseki was six years old, he was invited to the home of a wealthy neighbor where he was given some persimmons, which he slipped into his robes. Upon leaving, the fruit fell out of his robes, and Rikuseki explained that he intended to take them home for his mother. Here Rikuseki stoops to pick up the fallen persimmons.

Robinson: S13.12

Japanese name: Gom (呉猛)

Chinese name: Wu Mng

Legend: Eight-year-old Gom would let himself be bitten by mosquitoes to spare his sleeping parents. Here he is carrying a smoking pot to keep mosquitoes away from his sleeping father.

Robinson: S13.13


Image courtesy of Richard Illing

Another state of the above design

Japanese name: h (王褒)

Chinese name: Wang Pou (Wang Bao)

Legend: h would rush to his mothers grave during thunder storms to comfort her spirit, because she had feared lightning while alive.

Robinson: S13.14

Another state of the above design with brown foreground

Japanese name: Enshi (剡子)

Chinese name: Yen Tzu

Legend: Enshi disguised himself in a deer skin in order to capture a doe, which he could milk in order to cure his parents eye disease. Hidden in the deer herd, he was mistaken for a deer by hunters who roundly scolded him. However, when they heard his explanation the hunters had only praise. Here Enshi is being shot at from a wooded hill by a hunter of markedly European appearance.

Robinson: S79.6


NOTE: This print has the same title (二十四孝童子鑑) and general format and as the above designs, but is dated 8th month of 1853 and bears the seal of the publisher Wakasa-ya Yoichi. Robinson lists it as part of the 1853 series, Twenty-four Chinese Paragons of Filial Piety. I am grateful to Dom Gilormini for this image.

Japanese name: Chk (張孝) and Chrei ()

Chinese name: Chang Hsiao and Chang Li

Description: Chk and Chrei were brothers who, to support their 80-year-old mother, gathered berries in the forest. One day on his way home Chk was attacked by robbers. As he had no money, the robbers wanted to kill him, but Chk begged that he might first deliver the food. Just then Chrei appeared and offered his own life in place of his brothers. So impressed were the robbers that they set both brothers free and gave them salt and rice. Here Chrei is offering his own life in place of his brothers.

Robinson: Unlisted


NOTE: This and the next image are preparatory drawings. Like the preceding print, they are dated 8th month of 1853 and bears the seal of the publisher Wakasa-ya Yoichi

Japanese name: Shujush (朱壽昌)

Chinese name: Chu Shou-chang

Description: Shujush was separated from his mother at age seven and later became a high government official. At age 55 he retired from office and began to search for his mother. After much prayer and writing a sutra with his own blood he found his mother. Here Shujush is searching for his mother.

Robinson: Unlisted


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