Tamamo no mae Standing by the 'Death Stone' on Nasu Moor, 1891
Ink on Paper
14 in. x 9 5/16 in. (355.6 mm x 236.54 mm)
Note: XXIII (p.64-65) of "Yoshitoshi's Thirty-six Ghosts." Tamamo turns into the stone of death: In the 12th century when Emperor Toba fell ill, his consort Tamamo no Mae was blamed. When she refused to participate in a Buddhist ceremony, her magic was suspected. She turned into a fox, fled to Nasu and was hunted down by soldiers. As she died, she turned into a stone which reportedly killed anyone who tried to move it.
On mat, in pencil: Marer 326, exhib. 11/93, Thirty-six Ghost Stories. Description on verso of mat. Artist's seal: Sokatei. Signed: Yoshitoshi. Carver: Chokuzan to.
Colored ink woodblock on paper; oban.
Shortly after abdicating in 1123, Emperor Toba fell seriously ill and sought the advice of the court astrologer, Abe no Seimei. Abe diagnosed magic as the cause of the illness and suggested that Tamamo no Mae, the emperor's favorite concubine, was responsible. He had become suspicious after noticing rays of light emanating from Tamamo's head at a banquest one night when a gust of wind blew out the lights in the palace. Abe built an altar in the palace gardens and offered up prayers for Toba's recovery. Tamamo refused to join the ceremonies. When pressed she approached with great reluctance, but as she reached the altar took on her true form, as a nine-tailed fox. Growling resentfully, she sprang into the air and flew to the plain of Nasu. There she was hunted and shot by the archer Miura Kuranosuke. She transformed herself into a rock, thereafter known as the sessho seki, or "death stone." Contact with it was fatal; even to look at it was dangerous.
A Noh play describes how three hundred years later the virtuous priest Genno performed religious ceremonies over the stone. It burst open and Tamamo appeared with a clap of thunder. She told Genno she had bewitched two other rulers, one in India, another in China, before casting a spell on the emperor of Japan.
In the print, Tamamo no Mae, or "Jewel Maiden," stands regally in front of the rock. Her long hair hangs loose, and she wears many layers of robes in the Heian style. Spider webs decorate the outermost robe. Painted on her forehead are false "moth eyebrows," named after the beautiful feathery antennae of the silk moth. Two geese fly past the moon; two birds appear together in a number of designs by Yoshitoshi where death is present. The tall feathery grass, susuki, is used as a motif several times in this series. Besides its inherent decorative quality, susuki grass has connotations of overgrown gardens, moors, wilderness.
A comparison of the dating of this much illustrated story and that of Kuzunoha shows that Abe no Seimei could not have been present at Toba's court. Abe died a hundred years before Toba was born, and his name presumably became associated with the story because of his own fox heritage. After abdicating at the age of twenty-one, Toba added considerably to the number of his concubines. There included a beautiful and accomplished young woman named Fujiwara no Tokuko, who came to exercise a strong, malignant influence over him. This is probably the historical basis of the story.
Stevenson, John. Thirty-Six Ghosts. Hong Kong: Blue Tiger Books, 1992.
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