Biyu Suikoden

by Taiso Yoshitoshi

Fifty handsome heroes of the Suikoden were portrayed by Yoshitoshi. He selected his stars from Japanese stories. Omiya Kyujiro published the prints in chuban size from April 1866 until August 1867. 

The stories are similar to Chinese events. Peoples rose against the corrupt rule by local leaders from 1101 until 1126. They gathered in the swamps of Liang Shan Po and established brigands. Their adventures became subject of the famous novel Shui Hu Shuan (Suikoden in Japanese and Water Margin in English). The stories focus on 108 heroes. They fight against injustice but are regarded as outlaws. There seems to be no storyline in the novel, because the heroes move from one incident to another, but the general concept is to follow the rebels from the formation of brigands to the victorious general assembly. The subject became fashionable in Japan when Kuniyoshi started to publish a selection of 75 from the 108 Chinese heroes on prints in 1827. The anti-establishment heroes had appeal in the feudal Japan. 

Forty years later his pupil Yoshitoshi made his selection of 50 heroic Japanese robbers. The Suikoden theme was the criterion for his choice. So bravery and nobility are shown in criminal action. Great imagination demonstrates the use of giant animals as means of transportation on land and at sea. A feather is employed as glider in the air. Yoshitoshi also displays his obsession by ghosts, demons and magicians. Nowadays the Chinese and Japanese Suikoden have become characters for films and computer games.

Jan van Reek

Mary Deeming gave me the fifty images of Biyu Suikoden for an exhibition on the internet. She runs a monthly auction of Japanese prints and shows many woodblocks in an archive.

The Kuniyoshi print Ryotoda Kaichin looks like Neanderthalian wrestling to the Western eye.

Jiraiya distributes stolen goods among the poor, like Robin Hood would do later. We understand Yoshitoshi more easily.

Titles of the prints

The woodcuts are listed in the order used by Gottfried Ruetz in Yoshitoshi Taiso, Fünfzig Helden des Suikoden, München 1987. No thumbnails are given, because the prints contain too many details. When a link is clicked, a new page will be opened. The title, a picture and a description unfold. A 'slide show' of individual prints begins, if ‘next print’ is clicked.

1. Hoori-no-Mikoto rides on a sea bream

2. Wadatsu Ryuotaro Masatatsu fights

3. Kurokumo Oji attacked by the giant earth spider

4. Shiroki Komakichi escapes with treasure chest

5. Takiyashahime sits in an armrest

6. Shumizu Kanja Yoshikata, the magician

7. Konjin Chogoro throws a devil

8. Kurikara Kengoro twists bamboo

9. Shogun Taro Tairo no Yishikado disarms two goblins

10. Inaba Tara Onikado on balustrade

11. Sagano Dairyo beneath cherry tree

12. Madaramaru calls up a cat spirit

13. Shiragikumaru throws a green demon

14. Shiranui enjoys a crucifixion

15. Nikki Bennosuke holds an umbrella

16. Takagi Umanmosuke shows courage

17. Inue Shimbei notices a badger

18. Inuta Kobungo Yasuyori overwhelms a boar

19. Akamatsu Jutamaru Takanori and the ghost of his sister

20. Himematsu Chikaranosuke flies in the skies

21. Kiso Yoshinaka conquers a tengu

22. Jiraiya distributes stolen goods among the poor

23. Gamakuro robs a female dancer

24. Orochimaro beside waterfall

25. Toriyama Shusaku Terutada captures a pheasant

26. Aoyagi Harunosuke swims underwater

27. Mutsugae Sekinosuke fighting with a rat

28. Fujinami Yukarinosuke and a butterfly

29. Yufu Tsunade threatened by snake

30. Yatsushiro with a dog

31. Otomono Wakanahime by spider web

32. Tengukozo Kiritaro and tengus

33. Uji Joetsu and ascetic

34. Inuyama Dosetsu Tadaoki flies in smoke

35. Yume no Chikichi on a temple roof

36. Oka Kansuke slays assailant

37. Ohara Takejiro Takematsu grabs a water spook

38. Miyamoto Masashi slashes a bat

39. Yakagi Toranosuke Tadakatsu kills a demon

40. Mutsuki Suginosuke Norifusa and ghost

41. Akashi Shiganosuke strangles an enemy

42. Oshima Tanzo kneels by brazier

43. Shindo Kojiro Nobuyuki listens to an ape

44. Kinezumi Koboshi Kaiden with lightening

45. Shizunome Ohyaku and hungry ghosts

46. Sangoku Taro kneeling before demon and warrior

47. Satomi Jirotaro Yoshishige’s faithful dog

48. Senkanja Ushiwakasaburo Yoshitora rides a feather

49. Ake Tamanosuke before a statue

50. Toraomaru king of the tigers

More exhibitions of Japanese prints
Series by Hokusai and Yoshitoshi