Yoshitoshi designed wonderful vertical diptychs during the second half of the 1880's. These prints are regarded as separate works of art. Odd stories are shown on puzzling pictures. I have acquired the eight most realistic images for Western eyes.

Yoshitoshi was at the height of his creative powers, when he conceived these prints. People regarded him as the number one in ukiyo-e. Many apprentices assisted him. A publisher organised the different stages. Carvers cut blocks for each colour. Printers produced the vertical diptych or kakemono (double oban or 9 x 28 inches). The days of first publication were events after the long preparations. 

When a thumbnail is clicked, a new page will be opened. The title, a larger picture and a description unfold. A 'slide show' of individual prints begins, if ‘next print’ is clicked. 

Reference: Shinichi Segi, Yoshitoshi, The Splendid Decadent, New York 1985. 


Jan van Reek


1. Oshichi burns her house (1888)

A girl in a wonderful dress descends from a ladder held by a fireman. She hopes to meet her lover again.

Oshichi met the handsome Samon during a previous inferno in 1681. They took shelter in a temple, fell in love and had a night of passion.

She wanted to meet him anew at the temple and set fire to her home in despair. Her evil deed was exposed. Oshichi was burned alive and Samon committed suicide out of shame.

2. The horseman (1885)

Hostile forces are driven to the sea during the battle of Ichi no Tani in 1184. The pursuer Naozane makes a grand entry on the beach. A flock of sparrows flights near his fan.

He has challenged a samurai (the red dot at the left). Although he notices the young age of the battler, he has to kill him anyway. He feels ashamed and becomes a Buddhist priest as penance.

3. Inuzuka and Inukai fight atop a pavilion (1888)

Two heroes chase each other on the roof of Koga Castle. Eventually, they will fall into the Tone River on their way to new adventures. The picture looks like a scene from a Kung Fu movie. 

4. Golden boy seizes the giant carp (1885)

When Kintaro’s life was threatened by an uncle, his mother took him to the Hakone mountains. The golden boy grew up in a cave. He became a great friend of the animals and liked to wrestle with bears. His strength was phenomenal. One fateful day his mother fell in a pool and a monstrous carp swallowed her. 

Kintaro has caught the carp. The death of his mother will be revenged.

5. Genji in the provinces (1885)

Bamboo shields protect a couple in a lonesome land. Prince Genji (the Japanese Don Juan) and Lady Tasogare warm each other’s bodies. The closeness was too exotic for the sensors and publication was prohibited. It drove up the price of the few produced copies. I notice, man and woman support each other in hard times.

6. Wild maned Lin Chu has killed Officer Lu (1886)

Lin Chu had been directed to a far-off army camp as a guard. Officer Lu was sent to murder him. Fire has been set to the guardhouse as a diversion. It burns at the background of the prints. Lin Chu was not killed ‘by accident’, because he had taken shelter from the cold in the Temple of the Mountain Spirit. He was able to surprise Officer Lu and kill him. Snow falls on the cruel scene.

The tale stems from the Chinese novel Water Margin or Suikoden. It tells the story of heroic outlaws (circa 1101-26).

7. Shunkan remains on Devil's Island (1886)

Three men were exiled to Kikai Island. Two have been pardoned, but Shunkan had to stay.

He seems to prepare for a dive. Actually, he begs the boatmen and his friends to ship him as well, but the little boat (in the middle of the picture) moves toward the horizon.

8. Maple viewing (1887)

Koremochi and a princess watched the maple trees on an autumn day. The warrior became sleepy, but he noticed the true nature of the princess just in time. Her demonic character became apparent from her reflection in the pool. He drew his sword and killed her, before she could devour him.


Exhibitions of Japanese prints at the Centre Céramique
Series by Hokusai and Yoshitoshi