Under the skilled teaching of his mentor, Kuniyoshi,
Yoshitoshi perfected and excelled in his illustration of warriors and famous
historic battles. In the Moon
series, Yoshitoshi celebrates the heroes and villains of the intense period of
civil wars between the 12th and 15th centuries.
For more than four hundred years, rivalries between powerful military
clans transformed the peaceful Heian court into a world dominated by blood,
vengeance and the pursuit of military glory.
By the late 19th century, it was the samurai class that
suffered most from the changes brought on by modernization.
Yoshitoshi, who himself was born into a low-ranking samurai family,
understood and sympathized with the deterioration of the warrior’s way of life
and knew that his audience would be drawn to the heroes who symbolized a strong
and virile Japan.
A warrior’s fame, however, was not always gained through
a successful military campaign. Central to Japanese tradition, and reflected in
Yoshitosi’s prints, is the individual who reaches heroic status through a
failed struggle against overwhelming odds.
Faced with defeat, the warrior/hero will typically take his or her own
life in order to avoid the indignity of capture. Such purity of purpose and single-minded sincerity is the
essence of the archetype. The myth
of the failed hero is the equivalent of the universal concept of the fallen god
who is resurrected so that he may dwell in a transcendent world – a world
representing the perfection of those ideals for which he struggled on earth.
Having fought in the Emperor’s cause,
[I know my end is near]
What Joy to die like the tinted leaves
that fall in Tatsuda
Before they have been spoiled by autumn rains!