The Peony Lantern and the Ghost of the Courtesan Otsuyu
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The Peony Lantern and the Ghost of the Courtesan Otsuyu, 1891
Ink on Paper
14 9/16 in. x 9 7/8 in. (369.89 mm x 250.83 mm)
Note: XXVII (p.72-3) of "Yoshitoshi's Thirty-six Ghosts."
On mat, in pencil: Marer 433. Artist's seal: Taiso. Signed: Yoshitoshi. Engraver: (unknown). Printed: 1891.
Colored ink woodblock on paper; oban.
Meiji period Japanese color woodblock print with an image of a beautiful woman and an old crone with a lamp made of peony flowers.
The Peony Lantern is a ghostly romance adapted from an old Chinese tale by the novelist Encho in 1884. The chilling story was extremely popular and was dramatized in July 1892, the month Yoshitoshi died. The troupe of Onoe Kikugoro V, a personal friend of Yoshitoshi, performed the play for several reasons. Writing in Tokyo in the mid-1890's, Lafcadio Hearn mentions "I went to see the play; and Kikugoro made me familiar with a new variety of the pleasure of fear."
Tsuyu, or "Morning Dew," was the daughter of an influential samurai. She fell in love with Shinzaburo, a handsome young man from the Nezu district of Tokyo (where Yoshitoshi lived for a time), as the result of a single meeting. Prevented from seeing her again for some months, Shinzaburo was appalled to hear that she and her little maidservant, Yone, had pined away and died. He inscribed Tsuyu's name on a tablet and placed it in the Buddhist altar in his house. On the evening of the Bon Festival of the Dead, two young ladies passed by his house carrying a beautiful lantern decorated with peony flowers for the festival. They stopped and looked up at him; to his amazement he recognized Tsuyu and Yone. He invited them in, and they explained they had not contacted him again as they had been told he had died. As they talked, Shinzaburo found himself increasingly attracted to Tsuyu. She and Yone continued to visit him every night, and she and Shinzaburo became lovers.
Shinzaburo's servant spied on his master one night and was terrified to see him talking to what appeared to be two animated corpses. He went to a priest for help. With difficulty the priest convinced Shinzaburo that he was in love with a ghost whose affection, though real, would drain away his life if he did not resist. He gave Shinzaburo Buddhist texts to place on his windows and doors so that the spirits could not re-enter his house. Thwarted, the ghosts threatened Shinzaburo's servant for several nights until, in desperation, he removed one of the texts. The next morning Shinzaburo was found dead, his body entwined with the bones of the young woman.
In the print we see the cadaverous young ladies hurrying to their nightly meeting. Yone carries the lantern decorated with artificial peonies that Shinzaburo discovers when he visits the cemetery on the priest's advice to determine who his charming guests really are. Their robes are pale pastel shades and the printing is light, appropriate for these twilight creatures.
Stevenson, John. Thirty-Six Ghosts. Hong Kong: Blue Tiger Books, 1992.
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