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Tamamo no Mae [玉藻の前] transforming into a fox while Abe no Yasunari [安倍泰成] holds up mirror to show her true nature

Identifier: 1830 Sadakage surimono

The Metropolitan Museum of Art curatorial files say of a similar print, once attributed to Gakutei: "The Nine-Tailed Fox, disguised as a beautiful woman, was said to bewitch emperors in China and came to Japan disguised as Tamamo no Mae, a favorite concubine of the Toba emperor (1103–1156). Detected by the court astrologer Abe no Seimei, she flew away to Nasu Field, in northeast Japan, and was shot by the archer Miura Kuranosuke, whereupon she turned into a stone."


"... the story of Tamamo no Mae, the epitome of metamorphosis and deception, who bewitches Retired Emperor Toba [1103-56] but whose true identity as a fox is ultimately exposed through exorcism. The femme fatale's story is a variant of fox wife tales (kitsune nyōbō)..."

Quoted from a Janet Goff book review of The Fox's Craft in Japanese Religion and Folklore: Shapeshifters, Transformations, and Duplicities by Michael Bathgate, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Summer, 2007), p. 244.

The Tamamo no Mae story started in the Muromachi period (1392-1573) as an otogi zōshi (お伽草子), basically a fairy tale. Note that the outer robe of Tamamo no Mae is decorated with spiderwebs and falling leaves.


Illustrated in a small black and white reproduction in the Illustrated Catalogues of Tokyo National Museum: Ukiyo-e Prints (3), #2946.


Another copy of this print can be found in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden.


A quick comparison between this copy in the Lyon Collection and the example linked to at Harvard should show clearly the difference between and original printing of this surimono and a copy produced decades later. The one at Harvard is the earlier example.

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