Rekishi-e woodblock prints

  Rekishi-e (History Pictures) by Adachi Ginkō (active 1870-1900), published 1896   This series of prints by the Meiji period artist Adachi Ginkō contains twelve scenes of legendary Japanese warriors and heroes, each linked to one of the calendrical animals.    Influenced by the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit/hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster/cock, dog, pig/boar), in Japan each animal is associated with a particular year, or with hours of the day.  The years follow the cycle of these animals. 2012 is the year of the dragon, and next year will be the year of the snake.  People are thought to have certain characteristics depending on which year they were born in, similar to star signs.    Rat   This print shows Raigō Ajari (1004-1084) a Buddhist monk at Miidera, a temple at Lake Biwa, becoming rats.  His prayers are said to have resulted in a much longed-for son being born to Emperor Shirakawa (1053-1129).  The Emperor offered Raigō anything he wanted but then refused his request.  Raigō starved himself to death and his spirit turned into rats that destroyed the temple scrolls and books.   Ox   This print depicts a fight between a group of men including Minamoto no Raikō (948-1021).  Raikō, also known as Minamoto no Yorimitsu, is usually shown accompanied by his four legendary retainers.   Tiger   This print depicts a scene from Suikoden (The Water Margin), a classic novel of Chinese literature.  This beautiful snow scene shows one of the heroes, Kashiwade no Hanoshi, capturing a fierce tiger in Kudara, an ancient Korean Kingdom.     Hare   This print depicts the Soga brothers Gorō and Jurō on horseback, holding bows, as a hare runs past. The Soga brothers' revenge against the man who murdered their father in 1193 became a popular tale and the basis of several plays.   Dragon   This scene depicts Fujiwara no Hidesato, a tenth century archer who was known for his courage, rescuing the Dragon Princess from a giant centipede (represented by lightning) on Seta Bridge.   Snake   This print depicts Taira no Shigemori (1138-1179) holding a snake.  The Taira were a powerful clan, but were defeated in the Genpei War (1180-1185) by the Minamoto clan.  Shigemori was said to have prayed to the gods for a quick death if the Taira were going to fall from power, and it is reported that he died shortly after this, just before the Genpei War.   Horse   This print shows the samurai warrior Akechi Mitsuharu (1537-1582) escaping the battle of Uchide-hama by crossing Lake Biwa on his horse.  Mitsuharu, also known as Mitsutoshi, was the cousin of Akechi Mitsuhide (1528-1582).  Mitsuhide is infamous for his betrayal of his master Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who had helped to unify Japan.   Goat   This dramatic scene depicts the samurai warrior Yasuda Sakubei running forward to attack Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) at the Honno-ji Temple, Kyoto in 1582.  Hori (or Mori) Ranmaru, Nobunaga's loyal retainer, is rushing after Yasuda to protect his master, who is behind the screen painted with a scene of a bearded figure with a staff and a goat.  Ranmaru killed Yasuda, but because the forces of Akechi Mitsuhide (1528-1582) had surrounded the temple and set it on fire, Nobunaga and Ranmaru committed seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment).  They were following the samurai code of bushidō (The Way of the Warrior), in which seppuku was considered more honourable than being captured by their enemies.   Monkey   This print depicts two men looking displeased at a monkey who has gotten hold of a sword.   Cock   This print shows courtiers watching a cockfight.   Dog   This may be the samurai warrior Hata Rokurozaemon, who is usually depicted with his faithful white dog.   Boar   This hunting scene depicts Emperor Yūryaku, who reigned in the mid-fifth century, defeating a wild boar on Mount Katsuragi.
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Adachi Ginkō
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Ink and colours on paper
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