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

Xuan Zan, the Ugly Son-in-Law (Shūgunba Sensan - 醜郡馬宣贊) from the series One Hundred and Eight Heroes of the Popular Shuihuzhuan (Tsūzoku Suikoden gōketsu hyakuhachinin no hitori - 通俗水滸傳濠傑百八人一個)


1827 – 1830
10 in x 14.75 in (Overall dimensions) color woodblock print

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Publisher: Kagaya Kichiemon
(Marks 195 - seal 22-025)
Censor's seal: kiwame
British Museum
Tokyo National Museum
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art

Shūgunba Sensan, #44 in Klompmakers' book, is armored, but bare-headed in the snow, carrying a pole with a large, barbed ring at the end of it.

Sensan, like many of the figures in the Suikoden, starts out as an imperial commander sent against the gang of bandits. However, he is defeated by a female warrior and he then changes sides.

In a plot to rescue two captured members of the gang Sensan takes part in an attack on Beijing during the Festival of the Lanterns. In this print Sensan is shown standing in wait in the snow outside the city waiting to capture or destroy fleeing enemies.

If you look closely you will see three propitious symbols in the panel decorating the bottom of Sensan's protective armor: a blue bat, a kylin (麒麟) and a ju-i (如意) fungus which appears to be walking.

We do not know who designed the elaborate clothing of this figure. Was it Kuniyoshi himself? We want to believe so, but won't know for sure unless we can find one of those rare items, the preparatory sketch. In other cases we do know that an artist would give over a bare-bones, linear drawing to the publisher who would have the master carver fill in the robe design himself, with or without consultation with the artist. We mention these points because of one of the interesting motifs to be found on Xuan Zan's clothing: a tied-cord motif that mimics the tortoiseshell motif referred to as kikkō, a pattern often warn by warriors. However, we have never seen one quite like this one where the motif itself is woven like a piece of macramé.


There is another copy of this print in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden.
Kagaya Kichiemon (加賀屋吉右衛門) (publisher)
warrior prints (musha-e - 武者絵) (genre)
Suikoden (水滸傳) (genre)
bats (komori - 蝙蝠) (genre)