At the command of Emperor Ichijo (980-1011), who received an oracle in a dream, Tachibana no Michinari visits and orders Sanjō no Kokaji Munechika, a renowned swordsmith, to forge a sword. Munechika insists that he cannot forge the sword because he does not have a partner swordsmith, who is as skilful as Munechika is. Michinari however refuses to accept his request. Munechika, who is caught between a rock and a hard place, visits Inari Shrine where he prays and requests the assistance of the guardian deity of his clan. At the shrine, a mysterious boy calls to him. The boy encourages Munechika by talking about the dignity of a sword in a Chinese legend and the story of Yamato Takeru-no-mikoto. He promises to become Munechika’s smithing partner and disappears in Mount Inari.
When Munechika goes home, dresses himself for smithing and prays on his platform, there appears before him the deity of Inari who transforms into the spirit of a fox. The deity announces that he will work as the partner of Munechika. The boy who appeared a moment earlier was the transformed Inari deity himself. Munechika, who gained the deity as the smithing partner, successfully forges a sword. Finally, the noted sword ‘Kogitsune-maru’ which is engraved with two names – “Kokaji Munechika” on the face and “Kogitsune (Little Fox)” on the back of the blade as a proof that the deity apprenticed himself to Munechika – is completed. After offering the sword to the imperial messenger, the deity rides on a cloud to return to the peak of Mount Inari.
Adapted from The Noh
The Woodblock Prints
This oban diptych is in very good condition. The prints themselves are in very good condition with little to no edgewear, very strong colors, bleed through and perceptible wood grain. The only minor flaw is that there is some scotch tape residue on the verso from where the two blocks were taped to each other in order for framing.
A rare oban in beautiful condition and the complete diptych.
About the Artist
Tsukioka Kōgyo (月岡 耕漁, Tsukioka Kōgyo), sometimes called Kōgyo Sakamaki (坂巻 耕漁, Sakamaki Kōgyo), was a Japanese artist of the Meiji period (April 18, 1869 – February 25, 1927). He was a student and adopted son of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, and also studied with Ogata Gekkō. Although Kōgyo sometimes painted other subjects, most of his career centered around pictures of Japanese noh theatre, either as large-scale paintings or colored woodblock prints. Many of the latter were published in series and sold as multi-volume sets. Some sets, such as Nōgaku zue, have been preserved as albums in their original bindings, including accordion-style bindings known as orihon, while other sets such as Nōga taikan, were issued in sewn bindings known as yamato toji.
Unlike most ukiyo-e prints, his works have an almost painterly quality and use gold and silver for the Noh costume embellishments. Kogyo’s woodblock prints required very skilled engravers and printers to produce. Kogyo died in Tokyo at the age of 58.