Portraits of the Faithful Samurai of True Loyalty

(Seichû gishi shôzô, 誠忠義士省像)

Publisher: Sumiyoshi-ya Masagorô

1853

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 action.).  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 some of the 47 rônin, with altered names, paired with short poems in the red and green cartouches.  The prints in this series are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ôban. 

 

Ôboshi Yuranosuke Yoshio (大星由良之助良雄) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) the historical Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshitaka, with a spear over his shoulder

Robinson: S78.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yato Yomoshichi Norikane (矢頭與茂七教兼) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像), holding a decorated lantern that illuminates his face

Robinson: S78.2

 

Image courtesy of Richard Illing

 

Yoshida Sawaemon Kanesada (吉田沢右エ門包貞) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) blowing the signal whistle

Robinson: S78.3

 

Image courtesy of Richard Illing

 

Yokogawa Kanpei Munenori (横川勘平宗則) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) dripping wet, wringing out his clothes

Robinson: S78.4

 

Kanzaki Yagorô Noriyasu

Robinson: S78.5

Nakamura Kansuke Masatatsu (中村勘助正辰) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) warding off a brazier of hot ashes that has been thrown at him

Robinson: S78.6

 

The poem translates:

   Surely there will be teahouses

   where we can drink amidst plums–

   on the journey to the other world.

 

NOTE: The oval cartouche is the color of hot embers in the first edition, whereas the cartouches of the other prints in this series are all solid red.

 

A later edition of the above design.  Note the colors of the cartouches in the right upper corner.

 

Muramatsu Sandayu Takanao (邑松三太夫高直) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) drinking from a dipper

Robinson: S78.7

 

Horibe Yahei Kanamaru (堀部矢兵衛金丸) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) parrying a spear thrust from an unseen opponent

Robinson: S78.8

 

Tominomori Sukeemon Masakata (富之森祐右エ門正固) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) with drawn sword under a bell, which served as an intruder alarm

Robinson: S78.9

 

Ushioda Masanojô Takanori (潮田 政之丞 高教) with bow

Robinson: S78.10

 

Yada Gorozaemon Suketake (箭田五郎佐エ門助武) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) in the snow, making two handed stroke with his sword

Robinson: S78.11

 

Sugino Juheiji Tsugifusa (杉野十平治次房) / Seichu gishi shozo (誠忠義士省像) looking through a lifted curtain, his sword drawn

Robinson: S78.12

 

The poem translates:

   “Behold our valor!” they cry,

   as they surrender to the wind–

   cherry blossoms on the peak.

 

Preparatory drawing (shita-e) and keyblock print (kyôgô) of Onodera Tôemon Hidetome (小野寺 幸右エ門 秀當), intended for this series.  This design is not listed in Robinson, and it is very unlikely that it was ever made into a woodblock print.  This is one of several known drawings for unpublished designs in this series.

“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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