Utagawa Toyokuni I (初代歌川豊国) (artist 1769 – 02/24/1825)

Triptych of Musashibō Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶) capturing Tosabō during the night attack at Horikawa


early 1810s
30 in x 15 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese color woodblock prints

Signed: Toyokuni ga (豊国画)
Publisher: Tsuruya Kiemon
(Marks 553) - seal found only on the right panel
Censor's seal: kiwame
Lyon Collection - two panels from this triptych

"The scene pictured here occurred at a time when Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his half-brother, Yoritomo, had become sworn enemies. Tosabō Shōshun, a vassal of Yoritomo, had gone to Horikawa to spy on and possibly attack Yoshitsune and his encampment.

There are two parts to the tale regarding Tosabō's mission. During the day, Yoshitsune's retainer Benkei intercepted Tosabō and brought him before Yoshitsune at his residence in Horikawa, whereupon Tosabō, who pretended to be merely a pilgrim on his way to Kumano, was whipped before being sent back to his master Yoritomo. Having observed the defenses at Horikawa, Tosabō returned that night with his soldiers to attack Yoshitsune. They were then captured - this is the scene represented here. Tosabō was able to escape but was re-captured, led to Rokujōgawara, where he was then killed.

Yoshitsune, his mistress Shizuka Gozen and his vassals, including Kumai Tarō and Ise no Saburō, look on when Tosabō is brought back a second time. Toyokuni's use of the triptych form is particularly masterful here. The viewer is drawn first to Benkei and Tosabō in the left-hand sheet, before moving towards Shizuka Gozen seated at the back of the centre sheet; identifiable by his elaborate kabuto, Yoshitsune sits in the background to the far right, calmly and somewhat aloofly inspecting the altercation. Unlike their master, the warriors in attendance - at the top and bottom of the viewing area - express differing degrees of agitation.

With the exception of Yoshitsune and Gozen, Toyokuni uses cariacature in his delineation of all the figures, especially Benkei and Tosabō. In striking contrast, the features of Yoshitsune and his mistress are refined and rendered without colour. However, the strength of this work resides in the grappling on the left sheet between Benkei and Tosabō. The names listed on the print include (right sheet): Suruga no Jirō Kiyoshige, Genkurō Yoshitsune, Ise no Saburō Yoshimori (upper part), Kamei Rokurō Shigekiyo, Kataoka Hachirō Hirotsune (lower part); (centre sheet): Shizuka Gozen, Kumai Tarō Tadamoto (upper part), Hori Yatarō Kagemitsu, Oumaya Kisanta (lower part); (left sheet): Musashibō Benkei and Tosabō Shōshun."

Quoted from: Japanese Warrior Prints 1646-1905 by James King and Yuriko Iwakiri, pp. 174-75. Illustrated in color at the bottom of both pages.


The cartouche in the lower right reads: 亀井六郎重清 (Kamei Rokurō Shigekiyo) This figure appears in at least two different compositions in the Lyon Collection. The other one is in a triptych by Kuniyoshi of Kamei Rokurō fighting with a bear. See #228.

The figure to the left of him is 片岡八郎弘常 (Kataoka Hachirō HIrotsune).

The main seated figure on the right-hand sheet is Genkurō Yoshitsune (源九朗義經).

There is a curious motif found on the breast plate of Yoshitsune, the sasarindō (笹竜胆), which was said to be the personal clan crest of Yoshitomo, his rival and brother. This mon is partially hidden behind the haft of the sword lying across his left thigh.

"The personal, rather than clan mon of Minamoto no Yoritomo was the sasarindō, a design in which three flowers of rindō (the Japanese gentian, Gentiana scabra or G. makinoi) sit above three leaves of the shrubby bamboo Sasa. The gentian was characteristic of the damp grassland flora of Southern Japan, while the bamboo was a signature plant of the North. This elegant posy is iconographic code for the shogun: the North is subjugated by the South; the country united under his military authority."

Quoted from: The Lotus Quest: In Search of the Sacred Flower by Mark Griffiths, p. 245.

The name in the white cartouche along the left-hand side of the triptych is 駿河次郎清重 (Suruga no Jirō Kiyoshige).


Illustrated in color in 'A constellation of sources. Shuntei, Toyokuni I and the genesis of Kuniyoshi's warrior prints' by James King in Andon 78, March 2005, p. 19.
Tsuruya Kiemon (鶴屋喜右衛門) (publisher)
warrior prints (musha-e - 武者絵) (genre)
Historical - Social - Ephemera (genre)
Musashibō Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶) (role)
Shizuka gozen (静御前) (role)
Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経) (role)