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Kurō Hōgan Minamoto Yoshitsune and Notonokami Noritsune from the series Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Kurō Hōgan Minamoto Yoshitsune and

Notonokami Noritsune

from the series Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors

by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1886

Hino Kumawakamaru from the series Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors

IHL Cat. #1830

About This Print

In this print we see the great Taira warrior Notonokami Noritsune in his final battle at Yashima.  Fending off the arrows of Kurō Hōgan Minamoto Yoshitsune (Japan's foremost tragic hero), he goes to grab his foe only to see Yoshitsune make his legendary leap to another boat and then mock him from a safe distance.

The Story
Source: Saitō Mussashi-bō Benkei. (Tales of the wars of the Gempei), James Seguin De Benneville, published by the author, 1910, p. 168-169.

For the first time in the battle he [Yoshitsune] and Noritsune came together. Throughout he had watched with envious pleasure the matchless archery of the Taira strong man. "If I only had him under my command!" he said. Now their boats came together, and Noritsune at once leaped upon the deck of the Hangwan's ship. Benkei, Ise, Washiwo, Kataoka, were elsewhere directing the battle. "Throwing off his helmet, tearing off the sleeves of his armour, Noritsune sprang after Yoshitsune to catch him. Yoshitsune knew well that his enemy was too strong for him in a hand to hand wrestling match. He got behind his men. Noritsune seeing a knight holding a small spear in his hand, the symbol of command, addressed him. "Is this the general of the Minamoto, Kuro Hangwan Yoshitsune? I am Noto- no-Kami Noritsune, second son of Kadowaki Norimori." Then he sprang upon Yoshitsune. The latter retreated, and his men, seeing his peril, tried to prevent Noritsune from approaching their chief. Noritsune threw them and kicked them off into the sea. He was about to grasp Yoshitsune, when the latter, still keeping tight hold of the little spear, made a mighty leap across the intervening space to the next boat. It was two bow lengths (eighteen feet). Then holding his spear in attitude of command and threat he laughed at his enemy as he stood upright facing him.* Noritsune, although his strength was so much greater than Yoshitsune's, was no match for him in quickness. To him the yawning distance might as well have been ri. He stood in admiration of the great leap, but the chasm cut off all chance of taking Yoshitsune with him, and filled his mind with despair.  He sought elsewhere for victims and companions in death. There came to oppose him a knight of great strength, Tokii Akitarō. He was said to be the equal of thirty men, and his two retainers were each his match. They threw themselves on Noritsune. One the Taira knight kicked off into the sea. Holding the other two in his arms he leaped into the water. And thus died Noto-no-Kami Noritsune. 

*This is the famous hassō-tobi (leap over eight boats) of Yoshitsune. 

About the Series Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors

Also seen translated as Yoshitoshi's Warriors Trembling with Courage, this series consisting of thirty-three prints was another extremely popular series designed by Yoshitoshi, as at least five versions of each print in the series were issued.  The series was originally published by Kobayashi Tetsujirō 小林銕次郎 (Maruya Tetsujirō 丸屋銕次郎from December 1883 through October 1886, and was also republished by Tsunajima Kamekichi 綱島亀吉(Tsujiokaya Kamekichi 辻岡屋亀吉) in 1886.  The Tsunajima series can generally, but not always, be distinguished by the shape of the signature cartouche, a rectangular cartouche with square corners rather than a rectangular cartouche with rounded corners.  Some sources note that the prints issued by Kobayashi Tetsujirō always have a multi-color title cartouche but, in at least one case, the earlier published print has a simple white title cartouche.  As the publisher's name appears in the left margin of all prints that I've encountered from this series, assuming the left margin is intact, then a simple examination of the publisher's name will tell the tale.

When Yoshitoshi designed this series it was towards the end of his career when he was about forty-four, just before his most famous series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon was issued. "The [Courageous Warriors] compositions depict famous warriors from Japan’s past with an intensity and detailed care that demonstrate Yoshitoshi’s reverence for the role long played by warriors in the formation of Japan."1  "The subject matter of Yoshitoshi’s courageous warriors is drawn mostly from the history of the late Heian period, in particular, the Genpei wars (1180-85) between the Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) clans and the Warring States period of the mid-15th to late 16th century."2

1 website of the Brooklyn Museum https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/173661
2 Yoshitoshi, Masterpieces from the Ed Freis Collection, Chris Uhlenbeck and Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei Publishing, 2011 p. 116.
Versions of This Print

 Two earlier versions issued by Kobayashi Tetsujirō both dated October 1886

Three later versions by Tsunajima Kamekichi 綱島亀吉, all undated

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description Kurō Hōgan Minamoto Yoshitsune and Notonokami Noritsune
 九郎判官源義經 能登守教経經  
 Series Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors
  芳年武者旡類 Yoshitoshi mushaburui kurō
  [note: series title is also seen translated as "Yoshitoshi's Warriors Trembling with  Courage" and "Yoshitoshi's Warriors Bristling with  Courage" ] 
 Artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)
芳年 / 
Yoshtoshi / Taiso seal
画工 月岡米次郎
artist: Tsukioka Yonejirō
[left margin: artist's name preceded by address in right column]
 Taiso (see above)
 Publication Date
not dated 御届明治 年 月 [left margin]
Issued in 1886
綱島亀吉 Tsunajima Kamekichi (Tsujiokaya Kamekichi 辻岡屋亀吉) [Marks: pub. ref. 549; seal similar to 26-148]

address: 日本橋区馬喰町二丁目十四番地 
publisher: 出版人 綱島亀吉
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition excellent - heavy album backing
 Genre ukiyo-e; musasha-e
 Format vertical oban
 H x W Paper 
 14 1/8 x 9 1/2 in. (35.9 x 24.1 cm) 
 H x W Image 13 x 8 3/4 in. (32.9 x 22.2 cm)
 Collections This Print
 Tokyo Metropolitan Library 加4736-012  (Tsunajima edition)Waseda University Theater Museum 401-0399 (Kobayashi Tetsujirō edition); The British Museum 1946.0209,0.136 (Tsunajima edition)