Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 / Toyokuni III 三代歌川豊国 (1786–1865)
From the series Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō with Beauties
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1848
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of Dr. & Mrs. C. M. Cooke, 1935

The Tale of the Soga Brothers (Soga monogatari, 1644), one of the most famous works of early modern Japanese literature, carefully recounts the story of two boys deeply scarred by the murder of their father in 1176. As the boys grow, they vow revenge against their father’s killer, an assistant of shōgun Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199), and to achieve that goal, they diligently train themselves in the military arts for nearly two decades. Finally, in 1193, the brothers launch an attack against Yoritomo’s camp. Though both brothers lose their lives in the ensuing struggle, their legend would endure in the collective memory of Japanese people for centuries.

Rather than merely recasting Gorō’s and Jūrō’s biographies in terms of a male-oriented, adrenaline-fueled adventure, Kunisada introduced a female character, Tora Gozen, who imbued the story with a degree of psychological complexity. A prostitute working in a brothel in Ōiso, the ninth station on the Tōkaidō Highway, Tora fell in love with Jūrō, assisted him with his mission, and eventually liberated herself from the sex industry. Jūrō bid farewell to Tora before setting out to his death, and it is said that she was so overwhelmed with sorrow that, on that day every year ever since, rain has fallen, and that rain is referred to as Tora’s rain (Tora ga ame).

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