Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: The Battle of the Uji River (Ujigawa kassen no zu - 宇治川合戦之図)

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Dates: 1849,created
Dimensions: 30.0 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: color woodblock print

Sighed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Artist's seal: kiri
Publisher: Enshūya Hikobei
(Marks 055 - seal 22-005)
Censor seals: Kinugasa and Yoshimura

Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; British Museum; Honolulu Museum of Art; Harvard Museum of Arts; Keio University Library; Waseda University - right panel; Waseda University - middle panel; Waseda University - left panel; Tokyo Fuji Art Museum - the outer prints of the earlier ca. 1831 triptych; Google maps - Seta River, then called Ujigawa - we don't know the exact location of the battle yet, but will try to find out; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - 1854 version of this crossing by Kuniyoshi; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - 1853 Yoshikazu triptych of this scene; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - 1839-41 Kuniyoshi triptych of this scene; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - another 1856 triptych version of this scene by Kuniyoshi; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - 1843-47 Yoshitora version; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - another ca. 1849-52 Kuniyoshi triptych version; Lyon Collection - Shibakuni hagoita portrait of Takatsuna - notice the four squares of his crest;Lyon Collection - Hokushū portrait of Takatsuna - notice the top of his breastplate with the four square mon;Muzeum Sztuki i Techniki Japońskiej Manggha, Krakow - a badly damaged left panel;

Physical description:

"The Minamoto generals Kajiwara (left), Sasaki Takatsuna (centre) and Hatakayama Shigetada (right) are depicted crossing the Uji river on horseback during their attack on the army of Kiso [Minamoto] Yoshinaka in 1184..."

Quoted from: Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi 1797-1861 by Robert Schaap, p. 98, #82. This is accompanied by a color reproduction.

This battle took place on the 16th day of the 1st month of 1184. If you look closely you will see the banners of the armies of the enemies arrayed along the bank of the river. You will even notice that one arrow shot from the shore is flying through the air toward the dappled horse in the center panel. Notice also the fellow near the head of that horse tending to his bit with his upraised arm.


The curatorial files at the British Museum say: "Kajiwara Kagesue on black horse, with Sasaki Takatsuna [佐々木高綱: 1160-1214] on white horse, and arrows from Yoshinaka's troops."


There are cartouches identifying the main figures, plus those identifying the horses. The black horse cartouche reads 口取三文太, while the white horse is shown as 口取藤太夫.


Kuniyoshi created an earlier triptych of this same subject in 1831-32.


Sasaki Takatsuna was the son of Sasaki Hideyoshi (1112-84) who died in the struggle against Yoshinaka. Takatsuna was made the governor of Bizen and later of Aki. After he shaved his head he took the name Ryōchi and retired to Kōya-san.


There is actually a word for the act of riding a horse across a river. It is suiba (水馬). It is also the name of the stirrup used in such a venture. Those stirrups are pierced in such a way as to let the water drain through, thus helping the foot to dry and to keep it from festering.


Illustrated in color in Japanese Prints : Ukiyo-e in Edo, 1700-1900 by Ellis Tinios, Lund Humphries, 2010, pp. 116-117. The author wrote: "In this magnificent triptych Kuniyoshi uses the low perspective characteristic of many of his finest landscape prints to evoke a famous episode from the Genpei Wars. At the start of the second battle of Uji, on New Year's Day 1184, three generals strove to be the first to cross the Uji River and engage the enemy. The breadth of the river and height of the mountains are emphasized in this powerful depiction of a cold winter dawn."