Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797–1861)
Ushiwaka (Minamoto no Yoshitsune) and Goblins
Attack Benkei on Gojō Bridge

Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1843–1847
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of Victor S.K. Houston in honor of his wife, Pinao Brickwood Houston, 1941

Both in his erotic and non-explicit artwork, Kuniyoshi often explored supernatural subject matter. Innumerable ukiyo-e designers have depicted the duel between the Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159–1189), general of the Minamoto forces, and the fierce warrior-monk Musashibō Benkei (1155–1189) on Gojō Bridge.

Typically the duel is shown as the Japanese equivalent of David versus Goliath: despite the fact that Benkei towered over Yoshitsune, the general succeeded through his spectacular speed and acrobatic fighting skills, which he originally acquired through training with a band of tengu goblins. Here, Kuniyoshi imbues the scene with an otherworldly sense by inserting Yoshitsune’s teachers into the midst of the fight.

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