The Ferocity of Tametomo Driving Away the Smallpox Demons
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The Ferocity of Tametomo Driving Away the Smallpox Demons, 1890
Ink on Paper
14 1/8 in. x 9 1/2 in. (358.78 mm x 241.3 mm)
In this print, the artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi depicted a legendary 12th-century hero, Minamoto no Tametomo, who succeeded in vanquishing demons who caused disease. Tametomo was extremely strong and highly skilled in archery, but he was tempestuous and often became embroiled in arguments, which resulted in exile to distant islands. In a 19th-century version of his story, he was banished to Okinawa. When the island was threatened by hososhin, the demons that cause smallpox, he chased them away and became a hero to the island's inhabitants. In this print—one of his series of 36 depictions of supernatural beings, Yoshitoshi portrays Tametomo standing holding a large bow and glaring at two terrified smallpox demons who flee to the upper left. At his feet is a talisman meant to protect against disease.
Meher McArthur, Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Curator of Academic Programs and Collections
On mat, in pencil: Marer 351. Description on verso of mat. Artist's seal: Yoshitoshi. Signed: Yoshitoshi. Carver: Chokuzan to.
Engraver: Chokuzan Printed: 5 October 1890
Colored ink woodblock on paper; oban.
Meiji period Japanese color woodblock print with an image of a warrior with sword and bow and arrows in the foreground, looking back at human/demon forms dancing in the background.
Minamoto no Tametomo was, like Oniwaka (Benkei) , an extremely violent youth. By the time he was fifteen he is reputed to have been over seven feet tall. His left arm was four inches longer than his right, which meant he could bend his bow much further than other archers. This bow was eight feet long, and it took three ordinary men to bend it; his arrows were five feet long, their iron points as heavy as spearheads.
At the age of thirteen Tametomo became involved in an argument over archery with the emperor's advisor Michinori. He offered to prove his point by catching any arrows shot at him. (He also tossed off a Chinese text or two to show that his education extended beyond the martial arts.) He proceeded to catch everything shot at him, ending by simultaneously seizing an arrow under one arm and another in his teeth. He then attacked Michinori and would have killed him if his father had not dragged him away. For this disturbance he was exiled to one of the Kyushu islands - which he promptly proceeded to subjugate.
Returning to the capital he became involved in the confused Hogen wars, in which different factions of the Minamoto and the Taira families were pitted against each other. It was said at this time that Tametomo was the only man of whom proud Taira no Kiyomori (22) was ever afraid. Tametomo found himself on the losing side and after many adventures was exiled to Oshima Island. The tendons of his left arm were severed in a vain attempt to tame him; within fifty days they had healed, and he was as strong as ever.
Again Tametomo subjugated an island without an imperial mandate. The emperor sent twenty war vessels to seize and punish him. Tametomo caved in the side of the first boat with a single arrow, drowning many of the three hundred men it carried. The odds against him were too great, however; after killing his young son he set his house on fire and committed seppuku within the burning structure. This is the first recorded instance of this peculiarly painful form of suicide. The year was 1170 and Tametomo was thirty-one.
The late-Edo novelist Bakin continued the story in his Yumihari Tsuki, in which Tamemoto was made to escape to Okinawa. He became the island's ruler, almost a demigod to his subjects. When the demons that cause smallpox threatened, he persuaded them to leave by explaining that the islanders were good, worthy folk. The episode is a minor one in Bakin's novel, but that demons heeded him does exemplify Tametomo's force of character.
In the print we see Tametomo standing proudly, a talisman at his feet, scaring off the smallpox demons with his imposing stance. He grips a massive bow and wears a breastplate decorated with his emblem, the lion. His armor is a specially made copy of an ancestral suit which was too small for him, bound together with thongs "made from the knees of a thousand bulls." As with many of his fiercer heroes, Yoshitoshi gives Tametomo a beard and a thick head of hair.
Stevenson, John. Thirty-Six Ghosts. Hong Kong: Blue Tiger Books, 1992.
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