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Egara no Heita [荘栖の平太] slaying the giant uwabami or python [蟒蛇]

Identifier: 1790s Shuntei Egara no Heita

In another dramatic single sheet print by Shuntei of Egara no Heida slaying the uwabami James King gives us a precise description of this hero.

"Egara no Heida, the son of Wada Yoshinaga and a nephew of Wada Yoshimori, was a samurai in the service of the Wada family at the end of the twelfth century. His name derives from the fact that he lived in the vicinity of Egara Tenjin Shrine in Kamakura, where Minamoto no Yoritomo established his bakufu in 1192. Heida is celebrated for slaying the uwabami, a huge python-like serpent that was reputed to have a body as thick as the trunk of a tree. The uwabami was covered with enormous scales and had a mouth which, when fully open, could swallow a horse and rider whole.

The source of the story relating how Heida killed the serpent, which lived in a cave on the Itō promontory, is found in the Azuma kagami (Eastern Mirror). This uwabami was discovered when the shogun, Minamoto no Yoriie (1182-1204; r. 1202-03), and his followers were on an hunting expedition in Izu in 1203.

One of the first representations of this episode can be seen in the kusazōshi, Yoritomo ichidaiki [頼朝一代記] (The Life of Yoritomo, 1744). The yomihon, Hoshizukiyo kenkairoku (A Record of Right and Wrong on a Starlit Night, 1809, written by Takan Razan (1762-1838) and illustrated by Teisai Hokuba (1771-1844), also included the scene of Heida killing the serpent. This incident was illustrated by Kitao Shigemasa in his Ehon chichibuyama (A Picture Book of Mount Chichibu, 1776), and in ōban by Utagawa-school artists Hiroshige, Kunisada... and Kuniyoshi."

Quoted from: Japanese Warrior Prints by Iwakiri and King, 2007, p. 156.


Egara no Heita (or Heida) was also known as Wada Heita Tanenaga.


We know nothing about the commission of this triptych, but we do know when it hit the market it was around the time of the release of an ehon, Katakiuchi uwabami enoki (敵討蟒蛇榎) by Nansenshō Somahito (1749-1807: 南杣笑楚満人). It was illustrated by Toyokuni I and was published by Nishimuraya Yohachi and told the story of survival and struggle against a monstously large snake that could swallow people whole. Previously in 1787 Enomotoya Kichibei published a volume by Santō Kyōden (1761-1816), illustrated by Eishi, showing an uwambami in various guises. It was called Michitose ni naru chō uwabami (三千歳成云蚺蛇). So clearly large, over-sized snakes were deeply imbedded in the Japanese psyche at that time.


Henri Joly in Legend in Japanese Art: A Description of Historical Episodes, Legendary Characters, Folk-lore, Myths, Religious Symbolism, Illustrated in the Arts of Old Japan on page xli says that this event took place during the rule of Hojō Yoshitaki.


Another copy of this triptych sold at Christie's Amsterdam in May 2008.


Illustrated in color in Chimi moryō no sekai : Ukiyoe : Edo no gekiga--reikai, makai no shujinkō-tachi (浮世絵魑魅魍魎の世界: 江戶の劇画 : 霊界魔界の主人公たち) by 中右瑛 (Nakau Ei), Ribun Shuppan, Tokyo, 1987, p. 21. [The text is entirely in Japanese.]

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