Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) (artist 01/01/1797 – 04/14/1861)

Saitō Kuranoshin Toshikazu (菜籐内藏之進年員 - actually Saitō Toshizo [斎藤利三]), #36 (三十六) from the series Heroes of the Great Peace (Taiheiki eiyūden - 太平記英勇傳)


ca 1848 – 1849
10 in x 14.5 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese woodblock print
Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Artist's seal: kiri
Publisher: Yamamotoya Heikichi
(Marks 595 - seal 04-007)
Censor seals: Mera and Murata
Number 36: 三十六
British Museum
Lyon Collection - related historically to the print of Saitō Toshimoto

Saitō Toshizo (aka Saitō Kuranosuke Toshimitsu: 1534-82) was the lord of Ikuchiyama Castle in Tamba province. He was a vassal of the Akechi clan. In a struggle against Hideyoshi he was captured behind the enemy lines by Horio Mosuke and then executed.

The text on this page is by Ryūkatei Tanekazu (柳下亭種員: 1807-1858).


Illustrated in a full-page color reproduction in Heroes of the grand pacification: Kuniyoshi's Taiheiki eiyūden by Elena Varshavskaya, Hotei Publishing, 2005, p. 131.

Varshavskaya gives the translation of the text as:

[Saitō Kuranoshin Toshikazu], an old campaigner of Toki... was the lord of the castle of Ikuchiyama in the county of Hikami in Tanba province. In the battle of Yodotsutsumi... he was in charge of [Toki's] vanguard's defences and was the first and most trustworthy commandant in that combat. In fighting he knew no equals. He hd beaten the doubled forces of Sakayama Ukon and Tanbe Harutaka. [Saitō Kuranoshin] checked the enemy amidst the disarrayed troops of the army for which he was fighting. Nothing seemed to have prompted the possibility of failure but it came to the complete rout of his companions. This time, however, death went past him and he made his way out from the battlefield. In the vicinity of Ōtsu lived his wet nurse that had raised him in his childhood and he stopped at that place. [Saitō] inquired about the state of affairs and learned that the [commanding] general of his side (Akechi Mituhide) had fallen in the suburbs of Kyoto and that the general's wife and children had taken their lives. Now, more than ever before he was willing to destroy the enemy general - his lord's foe - and redress the wrongs. He was going to sneak into the main camp at Miidera but on the way there he ran into Orio Mosuke's... squad, which at that time was making rounds looking for Toki's fugitives. [Saitō] and [Orio] grappled but they both were warriors of matchless bravery and it was not clear whose the victory would be. Here, however, Kuranokami's luck came to an end, his sword breaking right at the guard-plate, the tsuba. It turned into a hand-to-hand fight and finally [Saitō Kuranoshin] was captured alive. He was executed and his head displayed at Hinookayama. At the time of his death he was only forty years old. There were also rumours that Saitō Toshikazu had crushed and scattered Harutaka's forces in ten directions, slew five brave warriors with his own hand, inflicted wounds upon scores of people and finally fell there in battle. This is how they spoke of Saitō, who being such a hero as he was, fled a defeated army to escape with his life, though even before the battle he foresaw Toki's fate and decided to die in action. Opinions on that matter had always varied - there were different intepretations.

Against the lord's foe useless was the naked sword.
He himself is killed and his body is exposed - that is how his lord was avenged.
Pitied should be the guest from the kingdom of Jin in his pierced attire,
And along come the feeling that lifetime is but a dream.

His farewell poem read:

Kiete iku
Tsuyu-no inochi-wa
Asu-o mo matazu
Hi-no oka-no mine

Life - like the dew
After a brief night
Morning does not wait
Here it is, the peak of
Hi-no oka // sun is
already on the top of the hill

Varshavskaya, in her notes, comments: "The change of colour of Saitō Kuranosuke's robe is worthy of special mention. Kuniyoshi achieved a remarkable decorative effect by making one row of hexagonal patterns of his cloak belong both to the shades of red and blue."

In the endnote, #36.1, Varshavskaya points out that Toshimitsu is the nephew of Akechi Mitsuhide. His mother was Mitsuhide's sister. Of Toshimitsu she wrote: "A talented military commander, Saitō Kuranosuke served Saitō Yoshitatsu... later Inaba Ittetsu (1515-88), then Oda Nobunaga. From 1579 he was in the service of his uncle, Akechi Mitsuhide, and received large domains in Tanba province. Saitō Kuranosuke was one of Mitsuhide's best generals. He was known for his foresight and analytical abilities. He predicted the loss of the battle oat Yamazaki and advised Mitsuhide to shut himself in his castle of Sakamoto... and to fight from there. Though Saitō Kuranosuke's operations during the Yamazaki battle were successful, they did not decided the issue of the combat. Soon after his party's defeat at Yamazaki, he was captured in rice fields and executed. Saitō Kuranosuke was the father of Kasuga-no Tsubone (1579-1643), a nursemaid of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu (1604-51), a highly influential figure of her time."


There is another copy of this print in the Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale.
Yamamotoya Heikichi (山本屋平吉) (publisher)
warrior prints (musha-e - 武者絵) (genre)
Taiheiki (太平記) (genre)