Mirror of the True Loyalty of the Faithful Retainers, Individually, Part I

(Seichû gishin meimei kagami, 誠忠義臣名々鏡)

1857

 

In 1702, Lord Asano of Akô was provoked by Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka into drawing his sword in the shogun’s palace, for which he was forced to take his own life, and his estate was confiscated.  Forty-seven of Lord Asano’s retainers, who were now rônin (samurai without masters), planned and carried out a successful attack on Kira’s palace.  Kira’s head was cut off with the same dagger Lord Asano used to commit seppuku.  (The term “hara-kiri”, although more common in English than “seppuku”, is considered in Japan to be a vulgar and disrespectful description of an honorable act.).  The 46 surviving rônin were forced to take their own lives.  These events were made into the play, Kanadehon Chûshingura.  This series of prints portrays the rônin.  Many of the prints contain syllables in hiragana script within diamonds.  These syllables may be assigned numbers corresponding to their positions in an alphabet-like order.  The iroha order was the alphabet-like sequence most commonly used in Kuniyoshi’s time.  Robinson gives the publisher of this series as Ise-ya Isaburô, however the publishers seal is identified as that of Horikoshi (堀越) in Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium by Andreas Marks (Hotei Publishing, Leiden, 2011).  The prints in this series are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ôban. 

 

Scene: Ôboshi Yuranosuke Yoshio beating a drum in the snow by a body of water

Hiragana: (i) No. 1

Robinson: S90.1

 

Scene: Ôboshi Rikiya Yoshikane (大星力弥良金) with a mallet attacking a foe hiding under a koto (stringed musical instrument)

Hiragana: (ro) No. 2

Robinson: S90.2

 

Scene: Yatô Yomoshichi Norikane (矢頭与茂七教兼) delivering a sword stroke to the head of a foe

Hiragana: (mi) No. 41

Robinson: S90.3

 

Scene: Fuwa Katsuyemon Masatane in ordinary clothes chastising two palanquin (kago) bearers

Hiragana: (ru) No. 11

Robinson: S90.4

 

Scene: Shikamatsu Hanroku Yukishige tasting fruit respectfully offered

Hiragana: (se) No. 46

Robinson: S90.5

 

Scene: Yoshida Kawayemon Kanesada running along the water’s edge in a fur helmet and carrying a spear

Hiragana: none

Robinson: S90.6

 

Scene: Sakagaki Genzô Masakata holding his spear and taking a drink in Moronao’s mansion

Hiragana: (wi or i) No. 25 

Robinson: S90.7

 

Scene: Yodogawa Kanpei Munenori (淀川勘平) running past a stone lantern in pursuit of a fleeing foe

Hiragana: (na) No. 21

Robinson: S90.8

 

Scene: Onodera Jûnai Hidekazu tying his girdle in the snow with his sword and armor on the ground behind him

Hiragana: (to) No. 7

Robinson: S90.9

 

Scene: Isoai Juroyemon Masahisa and a foe chasing each other around a large standing screen

Hiragana: none

Robinson: S90.10

 

Scene: Okano Kinemon Kanehide (岡野金右衛門包秀) wringing out his cloths in the snow while holding his sword between his teeth

Hiragana: (re) No. 42

Robinson: S90.11

 

 

Scene: Senzaki Yagorô Noriyasu using his sword to fend off a bundle of wood that had been thrown at him with a wounded foe behind him 

Hiragana: (ki) No. 38

Robinson: S90.12

 

Scene: Yazama Jûjirô Moto-oki fighting with crossed swords by a sand pit with an overturned brazier

Hiragana: none

Robinson: S90.13 (listed as not seen)

 

Scene: Ôtaka Dengo Tadao (大高傳吾忠雄) striking the gate of Moronao’s mansion with a huge mallet

Hiragana: (ka) No. 14

Robinson: S90.14

 

Scene: Kataoka Dengoemon Takafusa (片岡傳五右衛門高房) on top of a foe whom he is about to tie-up

Hiragana: (ho) No. 5

Robinson: S90.15 (listed as not seen)

 

Scene: Nakamura Kansuke Maratoki cutting the strings of several bows with his sword

Hiragana: (a) No. 36

Robinson: S90.16

 

Scene: Toshima Yasôemon Tsuneki (外島弥惣右衛門常樹), having tie two ruffians to a tree, holds a third on the ground

Hiragana: (ku) No. 28

Robinson: S90.17

 

Scene: Teraoka Heiemon Nobuyuki (寺岡平右衛門信行) carrying two buckets of water through the snow

Hiragana: (su) No. 47

Robinson: S90.18

 

Scene: Uramatsu Handayû Takanao testing a sword blade without its handle on a doorpost

Hiragana: (me) No. 40

Robinson: S90.19

This is an alternate state of the above print.  In addition to slightly different colors, the hiragana within a diamond is missing from the left lower corner.

 

Scene: Tokuda Tadaemon Yukitaka (得田只右衛門行高) opening a sliding door to disclose two of Moronao’s terrified retainers

Hiragana: none

Robinson: S90.20

 

Scene: Horibe Yahei Kanamaru beheading a foe with the severed head flying through the air

Hiragana: (chi) No. 8

Robinson: S90.21

 

Scene: Kimura Okuyemon Sadayuki using his sword to fend of a thrown spear and various other objects

Hiragana: (wo) No. 12

Robinson: S90.22

 

Scene: Kazuta Shinemon Taketaka (数田新右衛門武尭) using a dipper to poor water on a bed of hot ashes

Hiragana:

Robinson: S90.23

 

Scene: Takebayashi Sadashichi Takashige making a sword stroke that disarmed a foe whose right leg is all that is shown

Hiragana:

Robinson: S90.24

 

Scene: Karahashi Zensuke Takeyuki drinking sake from a tub

Hiragana:

Robinson: S90.25

“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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