'Seichû gishinden'

Yoshitoshi's 'Seichû gishinden' (6/1868)


This page catalogs all known prints in the Yoshitoshi series 'Seichû gishinden (Portraits of True Loyalty and Chivalrous Spirit)'.

The story of the forty-seven rônin is one of the best known stories in Japanese literature. The rônin were former samurai of the Lord Asano Naganori. In the year 1701, Asano had been charged with the reception ceremony for the Imperial envoy, an important event. He was a soldier, and the Shogun assigned Lord Kira Yoshihisa (who had better knowledge of the ceremonial requirements) to assist Asano. Kira was apparently corrupt, and expected a bribe for his services from Asano. When Asano did not produce the bribe, Kira abandoned him without assistance. Asano completed the ceremony for the Imperial envoy, although it was not entirely in order. He later confronted Kira and in anger drew his sword. He wounded but did not kill Kira. The offense of drawing the sword was punishable by death and Asano was forced to commit seppuku.

Forty-seven of Asano's samurai, led by Captain Oishi Kuranosuke, developed a plan to avenge their late master. They blended into society and domestic lives, giving no hint that they harboured a secret plan. Oishi played a convincing drunk, and was derided by many, including former colleagues. Several other co-conspirators were able to infiltrate Kira's household. On December 14, 1702, the faithful samurai attacked Kira's compound in Edo. They were able to defeat the defenders, and found Kira cowering in a woodshed. Kira refused seppaku, and was killed. Thereafter, the samurai Terasaka Kichiemon was dispatched to carry news of the successful attack. The remaining 46 rônin presented themselves to the Shogun. The rônin had defied a shogunate order prohibiting revenge, but had also exemplified the precepts of bushido. The Shogun allowed the rônin to commit seppaku, rather than having them executed. The 46 rônin committed suicide on February 4, 1703. Terasaka Kichiemon, the 47th rônin, returned the following day but was pardoned. He was the only member to survive and died at the ageof 78.

This story has spawed many accounts, or Chushingura, and many kabuki plays, the most popular being 'Kanadehon Chushingura.' Many ukiyo-e artists, including Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi, have created many works that deal with this popular subject. In this series, Seichû gishinden, Yoshitoshi depicts the rônin on darkly colored backgrounds. Most prints carry a number, for each rônin. Only 15 prints are known, but it appears probable that all 47 were produced.

Technical details

Previous cataloguings

Listed in Keyes' thesis:
	Roger. S. Keyes, "Courage and Silence: A Study of the Life and
		Color Woodblock Prints of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 1839-1892",
		Cinncinnati, 1982
where it appears as series #221;

	Eric van den Ing, Robert Schaap, " Beauty and Violence: Japanese 
		Prints by Yoshitoshi 1839-1892 ", 
		Havilland, Eindhoven, 1992

 where it appears as series #21, pages 45, 107.

We use the B+V numbers to order the prints below, with the addition of two more previously undescribed prints. Please help us to locate more uncatalogued images from this series!

The Prints

To see a larger image of any print, please click on the thumbnail.

#3 - Yoshida Chuzaemon (Kanesuke). A friend of Oishi Kuranosuke; he was sixty-three when he died.
#5 - Horibe Yahei (Kanamaru) A man of high birth, who was seventy-eight years old when the ronin attacked Kira. He fought vigorously, astounding many.
#7 Onodera Koemon Fujiwara no Hidetomi breaking through a snow covered fence.  
#8 Isogai Jurosaemon Fujiwara no Masahisa (the print incorrectly gives his name as Isoai) protecting himself from arrows behind a tatami. Isogai was first called into a temple at Kyoto, but joined the loyalists to avenge his master.
#11 - Chikamatsu Kanroku Minamoto no Yukishige behind a stone lantern. Known to be a good writer who used to receive a somewhat higher pay from his master Asano.
#12 Yagagoro Uemon Fujiwara Sketake  
#18 - Okano Kinuemon Fujiwara no Kinehide standing beside a wooden pillar, his unsheathed sword covered in blood. He was sent to a temple, but in order to satisfy his father’s wish he became one of the forty-seven ronin.
#24 - Mase Magokuro Minamoto no Masatatsu with a severed head on the head of his sword. His real name was Kanzaki Yogoro. At the age of thirteen he killed a man to avenge a friend. After Asano’s death, he disguised himself as a merchant and got the patronage of his enemy Kira.
#27 Kurahashi Densuke Kiyohara no Takeyuki flashing a lantern. He disguised himself as a cloth dealer after his master’s death. He was 24 years old when he committed seppaku.
#30 - Senzaki Yagaro minamoto no Noriyasu slaying an opponent.  
#31 Hayano Wasuke Fujiwara no Tsuneshige (Kayano Wasuke) holding a severed head, a servent lying in front of him.  
#42 Okata Sademon Fugiwara Yukitaki  
46 - Uramatsu Sandayu (Takanao).  
image needed
Yata Gorozaemon (Suketake) No number. He served Asano as a horserider; at the time of his death he was 29 years old.
Yazama Shinroku Fujiwara no Mitsukaze (Hazama Shinroku) kills one of Kira’s retainers. No number. Married the daughter of Kira's carpenter, and sketched the plans of Kira’s new dwelling. He died at the age of twenty-one.

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© Copyright 2009 by J. Noel Chiappa and Jason M. Levine