Ushiwakamaru being taught swordsmanship on Mt. Kurama (<i>Ushiwaka Kurama shugyō zu</i> - 牛若鞍馬修行図)

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

Ushiwakamaru being taught swordsmanship on Mt. Kurama (Ushiwaka Kurama shugyō zu - 牛若鞍馬修行図)


9.75 in x 14 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese color woodblock print

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Artist's seal: kiri
Publisher: Maruya Kyūshirō
(Marks 298 - seal 21-126)
Date: 4/1858
British Museum
Ritsumeikan University - right panel - crepe version
Waseda University - middle and right panels - crepe version
Waseda University - left panel - crepe version
Ritsumeikan University - center panel - crepe version
Ritsumeikan University - left panel - crepe version
National Museums Scotland - right-hand panel
National Museums Scotland - center panel
National Museums Scotland - left-hand panel

Kuniyoshi seems to have been drawn to this scene. He produced a number of triptychs, diptychs and individual prints centered on it. Here is a description by Hatje Cantz of a different example, but which describes this perfectly: "In the forests to the northeast of the capital of Kyōto, the abbot king Tengu Sōjōbō from Mount Kuruma and his bird-like warriors give Ushiwakamaru fencing lessons for the upcoming large-scale act of revenge against the Taira."


In the center of the left-hand panel is a small human figure carrying a bundle of faggots on his back. This figure is Kisanta (喜三太), Ushiwakamaru's devoted companion.

In 9/1731 the puppet play Kiichi Hōgen (Sanryaku no maki) premiered at the Takemotoza in Osaka. It told the story of the young Ushiwakamaru who grew up to be Yoshitsune. The play tells about the early years up to the time when Ushiwakamaru met Benkei on the bridge in Kyoto.

In a complicated plot, Ushiwakamaru who is a member of the Minamoto clan, also called the Genji. They have lost power to the Taira, sometimes referred to as the Heike, led by Kiyomori. One of the Minamoto followers, Yoshioko Kiichi Hōgen, has changed sides and gone over to the enemy. He is said to be in possession of the The Book of the Tiger, a 3 volume set of books which is said to hold the secret to military success. Ushiwakamaru and Yoshioko Kisanta, Kiichi Hōgen's much younger brother, change their names and enter Kiichi Hōgen's mansion disguised as servants in an effort to steal the books so that the Genji power can be restored.

Kiyomori through a henchman has decided to seize the 3 volumes himself. There are betrayals and counter-betrayals galore. But one thing that is revealed is that Kichii had actually transformed himself into the tengu king where "...he appeared to Ushiwakamaru at Kuramayama in the guise of a goblin (tengu) and taught him the art of swordsmanship, and he places his daughter in the young man's care and gives him the book of tactics as a wedding gift, after which, to pay off his debt to the Heike, he commits seppuku."

Quoted from: Historical Dictionary of Japanese Theater by Samuel Leiter, p. 263. (JSV)


In 11/1856 a dance play premiered at the Ichimuraza called Joro no Makoto Osada no Chūkō, but commonly called Kuramayama. In it Kawarasaki Gonjūrō I played Ushiwakamaru, Ichikawa Kodanji IV played the tengu and Bandō Hikasaburō V played Kisanta. Since this Kuniyoshi triptych in the Lyon Collection is dated to 1858, two years later, it is not a stretch to think that perhaps the artist was somewhat influenced by this stage production. (JSV)


In this scene the young Ushiwakamaru is wearing a red upper coat decorated with his particular family crest, the sasarindō.

"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.

Maruya Kyūshirō (丸屋久四郎) (publisher)
Yūrei-zu (幽霊図 - ghosts demons monsters and spirits) (genre)
warrior prints (musha-e - 武者絵) (genre)
magicians (mahōtsukai - 魔法使い) (genre)
Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経) (role)
tengu (天狗) (genre)