Utagawa Kuniyoshi – Tamatori’s Escape from Ryujin and His Sea Creatures
An absolutely fantastic woodblock print and one of Kuniyoshi’s masterpieces. This print is very rare; an 1843 original is impossible to find outside of a museum and even Showa era reprints such as this (from recarved woodblocks) are extremely rare.
The Legend of Princess Tamatori (Tamatorihime), or Ama, is based around the historical figure Fujiwara no Kamatari (614-649), who was the founder of the powerful Fujiwara clan. Upon Kamatari’s death, the Tang Dynasty emperor, who had received Kamatari’s beautiful daughter as a consort, sent three priceless treasures to Japan in order to comfort his grieving lover by honoring her father. One of these treasures, a pearl, was stolen by the Dragon King in a storm on its way to Japan in the inlet of Fusazaki.
Kamatari’s son Fujiwara no Fuhito (659-720) went in search of the pearl to the isolated area where he met and married a beautiful pearl diver named Ama, who bore him a son. Ama, full of love for their son, vowed to help recover the stolen pearl. After many failed attempts, Ama was finally successful when the dragon and grotesque creatures guarding it were lulled to sleep by music. Upon reclaiming the treasure, she came under pursuit by the awakened sea creatures. She cut open her breast to place the pearl in for safekeeping; the resulting blood clouded the water and aided in her escape. She died from the resulting wound but is revered for her selfless act of sacrifice for her husband Fuhito and their son.
The Woodblock Print
An absolutely fantastic woodblock print and one of Kuniyoshi's masterpieces. This print is very rare; an 1843 original is impossible to find outside of a museum and even Showa era reprints such as this (from recarved woodblocks) are extremely rare.
This print has incredibly rich color, even across the entire print. Margins fully intact, a clear verso. There are two "thin" areas in the right margin where it was likely removed from being tacked to backing paper, but only barely noticeable when held up against light. The bottom right corner margin has some minor waves to it where it seems to have been bumped. All in all an almost perfect example of this print with only very minor flaws.
About the Artist
Utagawa Kuniyoshi was born into the Igusa family in Edo as the son of silk dyer. Little is known about his very early years; Kuniyoshi began his ukiyo-e career as a pupil of Shunei. At age 14 he was accepted to study the art of woodblock printing under Toyokuni I and would become one of his most successful students. In 1814 he left Toyokuni’s studio to pursue a career as an independent Japanese ukiyo-e artist. Initially he had little success, selling tatami mats in order to support himself. His fortunes changed in 1827 with his dramatic series "108 Heroes of the Suikoden". From that point on the public sought out his portrayals of famous samurai and legendary heroes. Kuniyoshi worked in all genres, producing some brilliant landscapes and charming bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women). He died in the spring of 1861 from complications of a stroke.