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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Keyamura Rokusuke (毛谷村六助) doing penance for his mother at Hikosan Gongen
[彦山権現] from the series Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety of Our Country
(Honcho nijushi-ko - 本朝廿四考)

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Dates: circa 1842 - 1843,created
Dimensions: 7.125 in,9.875 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
一勇斎国芳画
Censor's seal: Muramatsu

Related links: British Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Library of Australia; Hatsuhana, by Kuniyoshi;Lyon Collection - Mongaku under a waterfall by Kunichika;Lyon Collection - 4 panel preparatory sketches including a person under a waterfall;

Physical description:

A gongen (権現) is an avatar or an incarnation of Buddha, that is, a bodhisattva. Hikosan, on the southern island of Kyūshū (九州), is a sacred location made up of three peaks which are the home of numerous sacred sites like the 49 caves which is a number related to the Buddha of the Future, Maitreya.

The origin of the precepts of Shugendō, a mystical, ascetic cult, is integrally tied to Hikosan.

There were miracle tales that grew up as Shinto lore. "...Shinto collections in Japan were also produced for kami such as the Hikosan gongen reigenki 彦山権現霊験記 (A Record of the Miraculous Efficacy of Hikosan Gongen, 1719)..."

This is quoted from footnote 41 of 'Forcing the Immovable One to the Ground: Revisioning a Major Deity in Early Modern Japan' by Kevin A. Bond, McMaster University, Ph. D. thesis paper.

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Keyamura Rokusuke the legendary 16th century swordsman doing penance for his mother by spending seven days in prayer under the waterfall at Hikosan Gongen. He is watched from above by two tengu.

There are some interesting allusions in this print. Much more common are the images of Mongaku sitting under a waterfall while being observed by Fudō Myōō's assistants. They are often placed in and have the same poses as the tengu seen here. There are two examples of Mongaku in the Lyon Collection. In one, a triptych by Toyoshige, he is praying near the waterfall. In the other by Kunichika Mongaku is in full penance mode, with a vajra bell held between his teeth. No gods are visible in this one. Our full attention is given over to the main character.

There is also a third example, but this time it is of a woman sitting under the relentless onslaught of a waterfall: Hatsuhana. Fortunately, the Lyon Collection has an example by Kuniyoshi of this one too.

Mike Lyon also owns a four panel preliminary drawing for a woodblock composition in which, in the far left panel two figures appear to be either holding someone under a waterfall or trying to extricate them. There is a link above.

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There are two copies of the same print by Kuniyoshi in the Lyon Collection where Rokusuke is struggling with kappa, a different kind of fantastical creature.

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Illustrated in 1) in color in Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi 1797-1861 by Robert Schaap, p. 64.

Also in 2) in color in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 4, p. 70.

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Both copies of this print in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and in the British Museum are said to have been published by Muratetsu, i.e., Murataya Tetsu (Marks 360 - 村田屋鉄).