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Minamoto no Yorimitsu-ko no yakata ni tsuchigumo yokai o nasu zu 源頼光公館土蜘作妖怪圖 (The Earth Spider Conjures up Demons at the Mansion of Minamoto no Raiko)

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Minamoto no Yorimitsu-ko no yakata ni tsuchigumo yokai o nasu zu 源頼光公館土蜘作妖怪圖 (The Earth Spider Conjures up Demons at the Mansion of Minamoto no Raiko)
  • Description

    Woodblock triptych print, oban tate-e. The Earth Spider (right) conjures up demons at the mansion of Minamoto no Raiko (Minamoto no Yorimitsu) (right), who lies sick in bed. Two of his bodyguards, Watanabe no Tsuna and Sakata no Kintoki, play go (centre), while Urabe no Suetake (right) and Usui no Tadamitsu (left) look towards the procession of spirits in the background.


  • Producer name

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1843 (?)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 35.5 centimetres (r)
    • Width: 25.8 centimetres (r)
    • Height: 35.2 centimetres (c)
    • Width: 25.7 centimetres (c)
    • Height: 35.7 centimetres (l)
    • Width: 25.9 centimetres (l)
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Transliteration

        Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga
      • Inscription Translation

        Drawn by Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi
      • Inscription Comment

        artist's (left sheet only)
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Transliteration

        Ibaya Senzaburo
      • Inscription Comment

        publisher's (left sheet only)
  • Curator's comments

    See:- Robinson, 1982, T128; Robinson, 1968, no. 42; Bidwell, 1968, no. 138; Springfield 1968, no. 137; Hillier 1976, no. 842; Riccar 1978, no. 278; Springfield 1980, no. 114; HUT vol. 5, 1989, no. 49; V&A 1991, no. 93; Inagaki 1991, no. 176; Thompson 1991, fig. 35; Suzuki 1992, no. 441; Mainichi Shinbunsha 1995, no. 141; Nagoya 1996, nos 260-1; Ota 1999, nos 162-3; Isao 2008, pp. 60-1This could be described as one of the earliest political cartoons in Japan. Ostensibly it shows the fevered dreams – a battle between two opposing demon armies – of the warrior hero Minamoto no Yorimitsu (Raiko-, d. 1021) who is on his sickbed guarded by his loyal retainers, the so-called ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ (Shitenno-). The nightmare is conjured up by the evil Earth Spider, the Tsuchigumo, who is shown as an apparition behind Yorimitsu, top right. In practice, the image was widely read by the Edo populace in 1843 as the artist Kuniyoshi’s satirical response to the hated Tenpo- reforms that were being imposed by the shogunate in 1841–3. By this reading, each of the demons was interpreted as representing some group in society that was suffering under the reforms, which were aimed at restricting various luxury items, social customs, performing arts and religious practices. The sick Yorimitsu was therefore seen to represent the ineffectual shogun of the day Tokugawa Ieyoshi (r. 1837–53) and the Four Heavenly Kings, his ministers who were spearheading the reforms. It has long been known from contemporary records that the publisher Ibaya took fright at the runaway success of the image and, fearing punishment by the authorities, voluntarily recalled stocks of the prints and destroyed the printing blocks in the eighth month, 1843. Kuniyoshi scholar Iwakiri Yuriko has recently argued, however, that the print was actually designed at the end of 1842 for issue at the New Year, 1843. For a while in 1842, although designs were being heavily censored under the reforms, finished prints were not being published with a printed censorship mark on them; also, 1843 was a rabbit year, which explains the small model rabbit seen in front of Yorimitsu in Kuniyoshi’s design. Even though the first ‘authorized’ edition was voluntarily removed from sale, several pirated editions and versions in other formats by other artists seem to have circulated widely. This is one of the more carefully executed pirate editions, printed from recut blocks, and missing Kuniyoshi’s signature and the publisher’s mark on the centre and right sheets. A smaller format, ‘underground’ shunga version was also made of the subject (Clark et al 2013, cat. 75). [TC]


  • Bibliography

    • Clark 2009 125 bibliographic details
    • Clark et al 2013 Cat. 74 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2009 Mar-Jun, London, Royal Academy, Kuniyoshi: From the Arthur R. Miller Collection
    2010 Mar-Jun, New York, Japan Society, Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection
    2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Credit Line: Gift of Prof. Arthur R. Miller to the American Friends of the British Museum

  • Department


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • 2008,AFBMLoan,2.51 (AFBM Loan Number)
    • 20906 (Miller Collection number)


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