About the Art
Under the light of the moon, Iga-no Tsubone gracefully approaches a vengeful, yellow-eyed ghost in an attempt to appease its spirit. Leaves fall around them as the characters are engulfed with mist from Mount Yoshino’s peak, where they stand.
This piece is from Yoshitoshi’s classic series “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon”, which draws its inspiration from haunting moon-related legends of Japanese and Chinese history. Specialising in Yōkai, here Yoshitoshi depicts the ghost of Sasaki no Kiyotaka, who was originally the official advisor to the Emperor.
After being threatened by a rival Ashikaga clan, Kiyotaka advised the Emperor not to go to war with them, owing to their poor imperial position. But the Emperor was in denial, refusing to acknowledge their weaknesses. Kiyotaka then wanted to regain political favour of his Emperor and so told him to fight after all. But, as expected, this proved to be ill advice and lead to a bad defeat of the imperial troops, forcing the Emperor to go into hiding. Out of dishonor, Kiyotaka was ordered to commit ‘seppuku’ (ritual suicide) and Kiyotaka’s restless, vengeful spirit returned to haunt the exiled Emperor’s palace each night. He’s pictured here as a winged ghost, with blue lips to signify death and striking yellow eyes. No-one dared to face the terrorising ghost out of fear, until a lady of the court came along: Iga-no Tsubone.
In Yoshitoshi’s print she stands tall and fearless, being the voice of reason to the ghost, helping his spirit pass-on. In the original story, she approaches the ghost with a lamp full of fireflies and tells him she won’t move until he disappears. Eventually he does. The calm and courageous Iga-no Tsubone is the hero of the story and considered to be a symbol of Japanese patriotism. Her hair is worn long and loose, cascading to the ground and tied with a simple ribbon, which was the traditional style of the ladies of the imperial court.
The moon was an important symbol for Yoshitoshi, which seems to reflect a strong sense of nostalgia for the past, a time before the rapidly changing Meiji period. The moon is the coolness, the ‘yin’, to the heat of the sun, the ‘yang’. Yoshitoshi was an excellent storyteller, often twisting and merging stories to allow for his art and imagination. He had an eye for the smaller details, such as here, where the moon is nearly eclipsed to signify Iga-no Tsubone’s power over Yōkai.
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