Chronicles of the Warriors:
Japanese Swords x Ukiyo-e from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
21 January – 25 March 2022
Mori Arts Center Gallery
Excessive and extravagant.
Superbly kitsch and soulfully manga…
The coming show at the Mori Arts Center Gallery, Roppongi Hills, will shed light on ukiyo-e from a perspective rarely featured as the main theme of exhibit: “musha-e” or literally “picture of warrior(s)”.
On view are a brilliant selection of Japanese woodblock prints and sword guards (tsuba) depicting heroic figures and their deeds, together with finest Japanese swords from the prime collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
*In this article, family name equivalents are placed before given names according to the Japanese usage of persons’ names.
◆Heroes and superheroes as idols in the mind of commoners
Before diving into the show, here’s amuzen’s recap of what you need to know about “musha-e”.
The woodblock prints and paintings called “ukiyo-e” grew popular among commoners in Edo, or pre-modern Tokyo since the 17th century.
Several themes emerged as ukiyo-e genres, such as picturesque scenery, the beauties, kabuki actors, flowers and nature, and also from the late eighteenth century, “musha-e”.
The latter refers to a whole range of ukiyo-e prints and paintings illustrating warriors and heroes that were cherished by the locals.
Real or imaginary, these heroic figures come from a variety of repertoire – historical events, myths, legends, folktales and novels. They are samurais, ronins, ghost busters, godly figures, strongman and superman, and occasionally, heroic women.
People took delight and found solace in these entertaining pictures, sometimes loaded with double entendre in defiance of censorship.
Highlights of THE HEROES exhibit
◆Heroic ukiyo-e prints from Boston
The show features a total of 118 woodblock prints by such masters as Hishikawa Moronobu, Kitao Masayoshi, Utagawa Kunisada, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Hiroshige and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi – all travelling to Japan for the first time from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
◆Sword guards decorated with heroic art
Some sword guards (tsuba) are embossed with heroes and heroic scenes familiar to the Japanese. Twenty-seven sword guards decorated with images corresponding to those of ukiyo-e will be on view.
◆Japanese swords as high art
The show’s star attractions also include swords as high art.
A total of twenty most fantastic pieces will be displayed to trace the chronology of Japanese swords from the late Heian period in the 11th century through the end of the Edo period in the late 19th century.
Subjects of heroic ukiyo-e featured in this show
● Mythological figures, from Susanoo to heroic emperors
● Legendary feats from the Heian period tales (794-1185)
From Minamoto no Yorimitsu slaying a monstrous tsuchigumo (literally “earth spider”) to Sakata no Kintoki alias Kintaro.
● Genpei warriors and Yoshitsune
Tales of Genpei on the warfare between the feuding Genji (the Minamoto clan) and Heishi (the Taira clan) in the 12th century, together with Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Benkei.
◆ Story of the Soga brothers
Scenes from “Soga monogatari” dating to the Kamakura Period (the end of 12th century – 1333)
◆ The Taiheiki, a 14th century chronicle
◆ Battles of Kawanakajima (1553 -1564)
◆Protagonists of epic adventures
ALL Photographs Ⓒ Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
page 1 “About” / page 2 “Info”