Yanagawa Shigenobu I 初代柳川重信 (1787–1832)
Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Taira no Tokuko
From the series Storm of the Willow (Yanagi no arashi)
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1832
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

In Japanese literature, it is difficult to find a more noble, heroic character than general Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159–1189), a protagonist of Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari, late 12th century). At the story’s conclusion, the ruthless Taira no Kiyomori (1118–1181) has died and his clan is defeated in the naval battle at Dan-no-ura (1185). During the battle, however, Kiyomori’s daughter Taira no Tokuko (1155–1213), holding the infant Emperor Antoku in her arms, commits suicide by leaping into the sea. Realizing their innocence, Yoshitsune’s soldiers rescue them.

It is surprising, then, to find such a depiction of Yoshitsune as this image, which depicts the hero raping Tokuko to avenge his own mother’s sexual assault at the hands of Kiyomori years earlier. The scene does not appear in Tale of the Heike, and its earliest known reference is in the anonymous text Records of the Rise and Fall of the Taira and Minamoto Clans (Genpei Jōsuiki, c. 1624–43). Records of the Nocturnal Civil War at Dan-no-ura (Dan-no-ura yoru gassenki), attributed to the literatus Rai Sanyō (1781–1832), is an erotic text that elaborates upon the event, and this image by Shigenobu I likely was inspired by Sanyō’s text.

Shigenobu's sexual encounter between Yoshitsune and Tokuko cannot be considered rape by contemporary standards. According to the dialogue, Tokuko not only offers her consent, she encourages Yoshitsune. Nevertheless, the scene still would be considered rape by the standards of early modern and pre-modern Japan. Within the cultural context of the Edo period, a woman was considered the property of her husband or, if unmarried, her father. Rape, likewise, was defined as sexual activity to which these men did not consent and that resulted in damage to their property.

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