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!

                                                            Saigo Takamori


Taiso Yoshitoshi

About 100 Aspects of the Moon


1:  Literature, Myth and Music

2:  The Warrior

3:  The Floating World

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