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

Matsuida (松井田): Yamauba (山姥) and Matsui Tamijirō (松井民次郎) from the series Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō Road (Kisokaidō rokujūkyū tsugi no uchi - 木曾街道六十九次之内)


10 in x 14.5 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese woodblock print

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Artist's seal: kiri
Publisher: Tsujiokaya Bunsuke
(Marks 548 - seal 21-228)
Censor seals: Fuku and Muramatsu
Date seal: 6/1852
Number 17 (十七)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
British Museum
Tokyo Metropolitan Library
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Google map - Matsuida area
Hiroshige Museum of Art
Lyon Collection - another copy of this print
Musée Cernuschi

"Matsui Tamijirō, whose family name (Matsui) plus the first syllable of his personal name (Ta) sound like the place -name Matsuida, is probably the same person as Matsui Tomijirō Shigenaka, who is featured in one print in Kuniyoshi's series Biographies of Our Country's Swordsmen (Honcho kendo ryakuden), published around 1845-1846. The source of his story has not yet been identified, but fortunately the earlier print has a lengthy inscription explaining the same scene shown here in greater detail.

Tomijirō was walking alone in the mountains one evening when he came to a river. Suddenly a large group of snakes came out of the grass and swam together across the river to the other side. As Tomijirō was wondering why the snakes behaved in such an odd way, a strange woman appeared and explained that the snakes had crossed the river in a group because the water lever was dangerously high from rain the day before. She was a female immortal... and gave Tomijirō various medicinal herbs that were helpful to him on a later occasion when he fought a giant snake. Using the herbal medicines, he was able to protect himself from its poison.

In this version of the encounter in the mountains, Kuniyoshi not only changes the heroes name from Tomijirō to Tamijirō (or, on the title page, Tomigorō) to fit the place-name, he identifies the supernatural woman as none other than Yamauba, the Mountain Witch, mother of the child superhero Kintarō... Her hair and garments are appealingly disheveled and she wears a cloak of leaves. At her side is a friendly monkey, perhaps one of the animal playmates of her young son."

Quoted from: Utagawa Kuniyoshi: The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō by Sarah E. Thompson, p. 50. There is a full-page colored illustration on p. 51.
Tsujiokaya Bunsuke (辻岡屋文助) (publisher)
landscape prints (sansui ga - 山水画) (genre)
mitate-e (見立て絵) (genre)