Yoshitoshi Taiso's Ghosts and Demons

01
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Tsuchigumo - "The Earth Spider"

The samurai seems to have been awakened by the spider
Warrior draws his sword against an earth-spider. Library of Congress Prints and Photos Collection

This print, which Yoshitoshi Taiso created sometime in the 1880s, shows a man preparing to fend off a hideous earth-spider demon. The man is wearing the two swords of a samurai, even though it looks as if the spider has just awakened him by pulling off his coverlet.

It comes from the artist's series Shinkei sanju rokkasien, or "36 Hair-Raising Transformations."

02
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Watanabe no Tsuna Cuts Off the Demon Ibaraki's Arm at Rashomon

This print is from the 1880s.
The warrior Watanabe no Tsuna chops off Ibaraki's arm. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

This vivid print by Yoshitoshi Taiso shows the moment just before the warrior Watanabe no Tsuna chopped off the Demon Ibaraki's arm. (The samurai's sword is seen projecting up from the bottom at the center of the print.)

In Japanese, the title of this piece is Rajomon watanabe no tsuna oni ude kiru no zu.

Ibaraki is the oni or demon of the Rashomon Gate. He is an accomplice of Shuten-doji, ruler of the demons, who enjoys carrying away human princesses.

After Watanabe no Tsuna chopped off the demon's arm, he put the severed limb into a trunk and carried it home. Unfortunately, the demon played a trick on the warrior and recovered his arm...

03
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Watanabe no Tsuna and the Demon Ibaraki, part 2

Yoshitoshi Taiso, 1880s
The demon looks for his arm. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

The demon Ibaraki disguised himself as Watanabe no Tsuna's elderly Aunt Mashiba, and talked his way into the samurai warrior's house. There, he found the trunk where Tsuna had stored his severed arm and...

04
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Ibaraki

In this print, the demon resembles an elderly woman.
Reunited with his arm, Ibaraki flies away. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

Reunited with his arm, the Demon Ibaraki of Rashomon flew away (still looking somewhat like Auntie Mashiba).

Yoshitoshi's late works feature many spooky scenes such as these depictions of the "Watanabe and the Demon Ibaraki" story. The artist had personal troubles, compounded by the cultural and political upheavals of the end of the Tokugawa Era, the Meiji Restoration, the Satsuma Rebellion, and the early Meiji Period.

Always the tormented artist, in the late 1880s and early 1890s Yoshitoshi Taiso was committed to a mental health facility.

05
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The Ghost of Taira no Tomomori Seeks Revenge

This print is from Yoshitoshi's productive 1880s period.
The ghost of Taira Tomomori marches across the waves, seeking revenge. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

In this print, Mushataira no tomomori, the ghost of Taira no Tomomori rushes across the waves to avenge the Taira family's naval defeat by the Minamoto clan. This scene is taken from the history of the Genpei War (1180-1185), which ended the Heian era in Japan.

The Genpei War ended with the Battle of Dan-no-ura, which took place in the seas off the southern tip of Honshu island on April 25, 1185. It was a crushing defeat for the Taira; the clan was destroyed, many of the samurai and nobles threw themselves into the sea, and their foes the Minamoto went on to create the Kamakura shogunate.

If the ghost of Taira no Tomomori really did come back for revenge, it wasn't very effective. The Kamakura shogunate ruled Japan from 1185 to 1333.

06
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"Night Moon over Mount Manno"

Woman and wizard meet by the light of the new moon
Don't take that paper!. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

This print, called Manosan yowa no tsuki in Japanese, is from Yoshitoshi Taiso's series Tsuki hyaku shi or "100 Aspects of the Moon."

The print shows a wizard, who has demonic wings and claws, presenting some sort of paper or contract to a noblewoman with extremely long hair.

07
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The Warrior Tada no Manchu

Print from the 1880s
Tada no Manchu fights a monsterous dragon. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

The warrior Tada no Manchu fires arrows into a river dragon. His horse seems to be utterly unfazed by the scene - its tail is swishing calmly!

This print, created sometime in the 1880s, is part of the series Dainihon meisho kagami, or "Mirror of Famous Warriors of Japan."

08
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From the Fairy Tale "The Tongue-Cut Sparrow"

This is the Japanese equivalent of Pandora's box
The cruel old woman carries her basket home. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

In the Japanese fairy tale "The Tongue-Cut Sparrow," (Shitakiri suzume) a cruel old woman cuts out the tongue of her husband's pet bird and banishes it from the house. The husband goes to visit the sparrow in its new mountain home, and is treated very kindly. He returns with a large basket full of jewels, silks and other precious things.

The evil wife decides to go and visit the sparrow, too. She takes a heavy basket as a gift, but when she opens it...

09
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Pandora's Box - Omoi Tsuzura

Fairy tale justice - the demons emerge
The serpent is about to squeeze the life out of her. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

The cruel old wife's basket is full of demons, instead of treasure!

This fairy tale is considered to be the Japanese equivalent of the story of Pandora's Box, in which a curious young lady opened a trunk and let evil out into the world.

The story of "The Tongue-Cut Sparrow" has been translated into English a number of times.

This print and the preceding one are from Yoshitoshi Taiso's series Shinkei sanju rokkaisen, or "36 Hair-raising Transformations."

10
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Oya Taro Mitsukuni Watches the Battle

An earlier Yoshitoshi work, just after his bloody phase
Oya looks intent, but not at all frightened. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

This Yoshitoshi Taiso print from 1865 depicts the warrior Oya Taro Mitsukuni remaining calm despite a frightening skeleton battle conjured by the sorceress Princess Takiyasha.

According to the legend, the Princess and her brother were the children of Taira no Masakado, a Taira clan samurai who led a rebellion against the central government during the Heian period. Taira no Masakado was killed by his cousin at the Battle of Kojima in 940.

Bent on revenge, the rebel samurai's children joined the spirit Nikushisen, and went to Soma Palace. The palace had been their father's but now belonged to Minamoto Yorinobu.

Before they could put their plot into action, Takiyasha and Nikushisen were discovered by one of the Minamoto samurai called Oya Taro Mitsukuni. The Princess tried to frighten him away by summoning armies of skeletons to fight, but Oya did not flinch. He eventually defeated the plotters and saved the day.

This print is from Yoshitoshi's series Wakan hyaku monoghatari or "100 Chinese and Japanese Tales."