Selection for the Twelve Signs

(Mitate jûnishi, 美盾十二史)

Various publishers



  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, various historical and mythical figures are likened to the twelve animals of the zodiac.  A tiny image of the appropriate animal may be found on the edge of the title cartouche.  The prints in this series are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ôban.


Sign: Rat (Ne, )

Scene: Yuki-hime (雪姫) clasping a sword

Publisher: Ebi-ya Rinnosuke

Robinson: S38.1








Sign: Ox (Ushi, )

Scene: Sakura Maru holding the rope of the imperial ox cart

Publisher: Iba-ya Sensaburô

Robinson: S38.2


Sign: Tiger (Tora, )

Scene: Soga Jurô Sukenari (曽我十郎祐成) holding a fan and leaning on a palanquin

Publisher: Ise-ya Ichibe

Robinson: S38.3


NOTE: An Edo kabuki fan would have recognized this as a likeness of actor Sawamura Sôjûrô V who portrayed Soga Jurô Sukenari in The Soga Brothers’ Revenge (Soga monogatari).  Soga Jurô Sukenari’s lover was Ôiso Tora, and tora means tiger in Japanese.


Sign: Tiger (Tora, )

Scene: Tora-gozen standing by a water cask, looking over her right shoulder and holding a kettle

Publisher: Enshû-ya Matabei

Robinson: S38.3a



Sign: Hare ()

Scene: Yama-uba (足柄山の姥) on Mt. Ashigara with a white hare

Publisher: Enshû-ya Matabei

Robinson: S38.4


Image courtesy of Richard Illing








Sign: Dragon (Ryu, )

Scene: Tatsuyasha-hime (辰夜叉姫) in a pine forest

Publisher: Kojima Jûbei

Robinson: S38.5



Sign: Snake (Mi, )

Scene: O-Roku standing near a shrine with a basket of wooden prayer-sticks behind her

Publisher: Iba-ya Kyûbei

Robinson: S38.6


NOTE: It is said that even snakes were afraid of O-Roku




Sign: Horse (Uma, )

Scene: O-Miwa (おみわ) dancing on a bridge at the Atake Barrier in order to obtain passage

Publisher: Ise-ya Sôemon

Robinson: S38.7



Sign: Goat (Hitsuji, )

Scene: O-Koma, daughter of Shirokiya (白木屋おこま)

Publisher: Kojima Jûbei

Robinson: S38.8



Sign: Monkey (Saru, )

Scene: Yojirô (與次郎), brother of the courtesan Otoshi, seated fan in hand by smoking fire with refreshments before him

Publisher: Iba-ya Sensaburô

Robinson: S38.9



Sign: Cock (Tori, )

Scene: Sumô wrestler Sukune Tarô (宿根太郎) under a cherry tree

Publisher: Enshû-ya Matabei

Robinson: S38.10




Sign: Dog (Inu, )

Scene: Sumô wrestler Inuda Kobungo (犬田小文吾) wearing garment decorated with puppies is referee for wrestling crabs

Publisher: Iba-ya Sensaburô

Robinson: S38.11


NOTE: The round red seal in the right lower corner is a collector’s seal, applied by an owner of the print.  Although once common, this practice is now condemned.


This is another state of the above print.  It is a less labor-intensive printing than the above, which almost invariably means a later edition.  In this print, the delicate shading (bokashi) in the bean-shaped cartouche was omitted.  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.


Sign: Dog (Inu, )

Scene: Shirai Gompachi (白井権八) by a lantern under a willow tree at night

Publisher: Enshû-ya Matabei

Robinson: S38.11a



Sign: Boar (I, )

Scene: Yamamoto Kansuke in the snow with a straw hat and a bamboo pole

Publisher: Iba-ya Kyûbei

Robinson: S38.12



Another state of the above print

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