Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Takagi Toranosuke (多嘉木虎之助) capturing a kappa underwater
in the Tamura River in the Province of Sagami [相模国]

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Dates: 1834 - 1835,created
Dimensions: 9.5 in,14.0 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print

Signed: (Ichiyūsai) Kuniyoshi ga - trimmed on right
(一勇斎) 国芳画
Publisher: Kawaguchiya Uhei
(Marks 232 - seal closest to 22-050) Censor's seal: kiwame

Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; British Museum;

Physical description:

Sarah E. Thompson in her Utagawa Kuniyoshi: The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō, #31 describes another print, different from the one in the Lyon Collection, relating to Toranosuke's superhuman abilities. "Takagi Toranosuke appears in at least one other print by Kuniyoshi and one by Kuniyoshi's pupil Yoshitoshi, both in the MFA collection. Both have short texts describing him as a samurai originally from Hyūga Province who wandered through Japan and fought various monsters. It seems likely that he is a fictional character, possibly inspired by the historical figures Takagi Oriemon Shigetoshi, who founded the Hontai Hōshin Ryū school of martial arts in the seventeenth century, and his successor as head of the school, Takagi Umanosuke Shigesada. Both Oriemon and Umanosuke appear in prints as well, with fantastic adventures added to their real-life biographies.

Toranosuke's reputation as a fighter of monsters suggests that perhaps he is about to fight the whale, as in Kuniyoshi's famous triptych of Miyamoto Musashi fighting a whale. Kuniyoshi's other print of Toranosuke shows him in an underwater struggle with a creature called a 'river tiger' (kawatora); and the text of Yoshitoshi's print, which shows the hero fighting a female demon, mentions a battle with an 'evil fish' (akugyō). Although no literary source has been found, there may be a related story in which the supernatural water monster is replaced by a whale - less unusual, but far more impressive."


"Takagi Toranosuke, a native of Hyūga and an expert in the martial arts, is seen struggling with a kappa or kawatarō (also known as a suiko (waterbaby)). A kappa is a composite amphibious creature said to be a native of Kyushu. It has the shell of a tortoise, scaly legs, webbed feet and most mystifying of all, an ape-like head with a hollow depression in its crown that contains a strange fluid that provides the kappa with its strength. It tends to be harmless, but if one remembers to bow to the kappa it is forced to return the bow, thus losing its potent fluid and becoming powerless. Even as late as the 19th century, it was still widely believed that kappa actually existed. Stuffed kappa were shown in freak shows and one such exhibit was shown at the National Museum of Ethnology (Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde) in Leiden, the Netherlands, in the 1980s. The animal had been cleverly constructed and must have been quite convincing at the time." Quoted from:Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi 1797-1861 by Robert Schaap, p. 47, with an accompanying color reproduction.


See Kuniyoshi: The Warrior-Prints by Basil William Robinson (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1982) and its privately published supplement as S1c.6.

Also illustrated in color in 歌川国芳展: 生誕200年記念 Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Exhibition to Commemorate the 200th Anniversary of his birth, 1996, #29, p. 50.