Donated to the museum in 1933 by Exeter-resident Lieutenant-Colonel R.J. Saumarez.

Page 1: Utagawa Yoshitora (active c.1836 -1887)
Date: 1863
Publisher: Maruya Tetsujiro (Enjudo publishing house)
This depicts a scene at the court of the Kamakura shogunate. On the raised tatami is sitting Minamoto no Sanetomo 源實朝公 (1192-1219, r. 1203-1219), the third shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate and the last head of the Minamoto clan. He was a talented poet, with one of his tanka poems being included in the anthology 100 Poems by 100 Poets (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu). He was assassinated on New Year's Day in 1219 by his nephew Minamoto no Yoshinari, shortly after participating in a ceremony celebrating his nomination to the honorary court position of Minister of the Right (Udaijin 右大臣). Since he is given the title ‘Udaijin Minamoto no Sanetomo’ in this print, I wonder if this scene is shortly before his death. Sadly the narrative panel at the top has been cropped so it is hard to make out what is being said. I haven’t been able to track down another copy of this print.

Page 2: Utagawa Yoshitora (active c.1836 - 1887)
Date: 1862
Publisher: Yamadaya Shojiro
Ashikaga Yoshimitsu is known as the shogun who ended the imperial division of Japan (between the Northern and Southern Courts) in 1392. It is interesting that Yoshitora has depicted Yoshimitsu travelling eastwards with Mount Fuji in the background of this print even though Yoshimitsu was actually based further west in the Kansai area.

Page 3: Utagawa (Gountei) Sadahide (1807 - 1878/9)
Date: 1866
Publisher: Enshuya Hikobei
Block carver: Katada Horinaga
View of the sunrise in Shinagawa in the Eastern capital. Although this looks like a typical Sadahide Yokohama-e, with the foreign ‘black ships’ in the harbour, it is actually a view of Shinagawa in Edo. The print is surely inspired by the Hiroshige’s famous depiction of Shinagawa, Shinaga hinode, the second print in his Hoeidō ‘53 Stations of the Tokaido’ series (in the exhibition!). As in Hiroshige’s print you can just glimpse a daimyo procession passing along the street of shops and restaurants. The cranes flying overhead are auspicious symbols, representing longevity and good fortune.

Page 4: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)
Date: 1860
Publisher: Izumiya Ichibei
Akamatsu Castle attacked by flooding. This triptych is typical of the 'great armies' genre that was popular with Utagawa School artists in the mid-19th century. These big set piece prints revived scenes from the Japan’s medieval past, when the powerful warrior clans battled for control of the country before final unification under the Tokugawa shoguns. Ukiyo-e artists were officially banned from depicting actual historical events involving the shogunate, but as censorship began to be relaxed in the 1860s, print designers found a ready market for previously censored historical imagery.

‘Akamatsu Castle’ is really Takamatsu Castle, which was besieged by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1582. After a month or two of siege, Hideyoshi built dykes to divert a nearby river and flooded the castle, leading to a quick surrender.

Page 5: Utagawa Yoshitora (active c.1836 - 1882)
Date: 1853
Publisher: Sanoya Kihei
The Great Battle of Uji River.

Page 6: Utagawa Kunitsuna (active c.1820 - 1865)
Date: 1861
Publisher: Katoya Iwazo
Race at the Great Battle of Uji River
Both prints depict the second of two dramatic battles that took place in 1183 at the Uji River, during the Genpei wars (between the Minamoto and Taira clans). Both prints show the two Minamoto warriors Sasaki Takatsuna 佐々木高綱 and Kajiwara Kagesue 梶原景李 leading the Minamoto forces across the flooded river. The two competed to cross first, an incident that was famously recounted in the medieval epic, The Tale of The Heike, and was a popular subject of paintings and of musha-e warrior prints.

Page 7: Utagawa Yoshitora (active c.1836 - 1887)
Date: 1862
Publisher: Maruya Tetsujiro
The battle of Yashima at Dannoura was a major sea battle of the Genpei War, occurring at Dannoura in the Shimonoseki Strait off the southern tip of Honshu. On 24 March, 1185, the Genji (Minamoto) clan fleet, led by Minamoto no Yoshitsune, defeated the Heike (Taira) clan fleet, and this battle inspired many print designs.

Page 8: Morikawa Chikashige (active c.1689 - 1882)
Date: 1866
Publisher: unknown
This print shows the warrior Minamoto no Yoritomo and his men hiding from their enemies in a tree during the Genpei War (1180-1185). After his defeat at the Battle of Ishibashiyama, Yoritomo was being followed through the Hakone Mountains by warriors from the Taira clan. One of these warriors, Kajiwara Kagetoki (in the centre here with a bow), was secretly a supporter of Yoritomo. When the Taira soldiers came upon the tree where Yoritomo was hiding, Kagetoki stuck his bow into the tree. This startled two doves that flew away from the tree (see here top left). Kagetoki convinced the other Taira soldiers that no one could be in the tree with the doves, thus allowing Yoritomo to escape. The Minamoto side eventually won the war, and Yoritomo became the military ruler of the county.

Page 9: Utagawa Kunitsuna (1805 - 1868)
Date: 1862
Publisher: Echizenya Heisaburo
The Great War between the Minamoto and Tairo clans

Page 10: Utagawa Yoshifusa (active c.1837 - 1860)
Date: 1859
Black carver: Hori Kane
Publisher: Kiya Sojiro
Presumably this print is making reference to the Battle of Anegawa of 1570, between the allied forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu and the combined forces of the Azai and Asakura clans. As it was forbidden to depict recent political events, the battle name may have been ‘disguised’ in order to avoid censorship.

Page 11: Toyohara Kunichika (1835 - 1900)
Date: 1862
Publisher: Yamada Shojiro
This print makes reference to the Duel of Takadanobaba of 1694, in which Horibe Yasubei (1670-1703, later to become one of the famous forty-seven rōnin, seen here in the centre), bravely defeated several warriors.

Page 12: Toyohara Kunichika (1835 - 1900)
Date: 1859
Publisher: Yamadaya Shojiro
The female demon-robber Omatsu (right) being killed by Natsume Sentarō (centre) at the Kasamatsu mountain pass. The red cartouche top left explains the events depicted. The story was include in the popular kabuki play, 'Shinpan koshi no shiranami'.
Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
Manuscripts and writing tools
wood cut on parchment
Common Name
Simple Name
Full Name
triptych book
each page height 350 mm; each page W 253 mm; fold out W 730 mm
Production Person Surname
Nide; Hunniqoti; Kanitinna; Kunimori; Kunichika
Production Person Initials
Production Year Low
Production Year High
Production Country
Japan; Japan; Japan; Japan; Japan
Production Area Region
East Asia
Production Continent
Family Group

paper; ink
Function Name
Function Detail
In ukiyo-e printmaking, which followed the kabuki theater closely as one of its staple subjects, Chushingura was depicted in single sheet actor prints from the first decades of its production. At this point, Chushingura was still just one drama among many, receiving no special treatment to distinguish it from other plays. There are prints of actors in Chushingura roles, for example, sprinkled among others by Shunsho and Buncho in the Ehon Butai Ogi of 1770, based on slightly earlier standard hosoban prints of the drama. Shortly thereafter, however, this highly celebrated play took on a unique status as a theme for eleven sheet print sets, with one print devoted to each of its acts. No other drama in the kabuki oeuvre has ever been accorded comparable treatment, or variety of depiction. Chushingura, as one of the best known plays, became a pop culture standard, from which artists could draw seemingly endless variations and nuances, mixing fact and fiction in varying amounts to create different shades of the legend. In broad overview then, here are several of these Chushingura sets, described by general type, with mention of the artists who made them. Although not technically "series" prints, it is nonetheless fitting to conclude this discussion of Chushingura sets with mention of some of the multi-sheet works on the 46 ronin story that attempted to be historically accurate. For the movement in Chushingura depiction from standard kabuki sheets through the series works, and from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries, has tended to be one towards an increasing sense of realism, as well as increasing discrimination about what is factual, at least in the progressive works. The biography series, though stilted towards effusive praise of the heroes, were yet a further advance on the sense of realism effected by the use of Chushingura in uki-e. Historical warrior print triptychs, typically depicting the night attack or its aftermath, aimed at bringing the stirring action and magnificence of this event to life. Typically these works focus on mass group scenes, with the ronin in their striking black and white costume of revenge, either scaling the gate of Kira's mansion, fighting in the garden, or gathering on Ryogoku Bridge when the deed was done. Although many of the aspects of depiction are borrowed from works based on the theater, gone is any sense that one is watching a secondhand drama. Rather it is the moving story of the 46 ronin themselves that is brought directly to the viewer's gaze in these triptychs, with all the weight and seriousness of historical truth.

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