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An Idiot's Guide:
Collect Like A Connoisseur 

A Tale of Two Explosions; Morozumi Masakiyo dies twice, ukiyo-e style. Two masterpieces of composition by Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi.

Updated: Jan 15

An Edo Gallery Blog

Kuniyoshi's explosion Morozumi Masakiyo

Above: No. 23 Morozumi Bungo-no-kami Masakiyo, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), from his series Courageous Generals of Kai and Echigo Provinces: The Twenty-four Generals of the Takeda Clan (Kôetsu yûshô den, Takeda ke nijûyon shô) published in 1848 to 1849 (Image courtesy of a private collection 2023).

Is it any wonder why the Lord of Bungo Morozumi Masakiyo, a loyal retainer to the ancient house Tekada, fabled as one of the twenty-four legendary companions most trusted by daimyo Takeda Shingen of Kai Province, dies twice? Or does he...

The Lord of Bungo, refusing to simply "go in peace" less he suffers the fate of death or stain of defeat by his enemies, slams his katana hilt first, gauntlets clenched upon naked steal simultaneously guiding its point into his demonic maw detonating a landmine, committing seppuku in explosive fashion, his honor intact. A true follower of the "bushido code", Masakiyo's "see you in hell" gesture becomes enshrined in Japanese samurai lore as he dies one of the three glorified deaths during the battles that took place between the troops of Takeda Shungen of Kai Province and Kenshin Tora of Echigo Province during 1553-1564 at Kawanakajima.

Below: Masakiyo's Difficult Battle from the Taiheiki Chronicles (Taiheiki Masakiyo nansen no zu) by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. An ardent pupil and protege of Kuniyoshi's school, Yoshitoshi  (imitation being the ultimate respect), pays tribute to his late master's genius in triplicate fashion with his own masterpiece.

yoshitoshi's explosion triptych

So, who is this Masakiyo from Kuniyoshi's explosion depicted again in Yoshitoshi's triptych? I began running into discrepancies as to who Masakiyo, as portrayed in Yoshitoshi's triptych, actually is. As Yoshitoshi's triptych is titled Masakiyo's Challenging Battle from the Taiheiki  (Taiheiki, Masakiyo nansen no zu), suggesting the scene belongs to the Japanese Taiheiki, an epic based on events during the 14th century. This can be immediately ruled out because gunpowder was not introduced into Japan for another two centuries! Yoshitoshi titled his series thusly so as to fly under the radar of the Shogun's political censors, unlike Kuniyoshi, a frequent protagonist to the censors, who did not bother to adhere to the Shogun's law, which censored any publication glorifying any samurai heroes or their battles during the late sixteenth century, the period leading up to the so-called Edo period. The Tokugawa Shogunate was especially sensitive about this time period, as the Tokugawa clan suffered major defeats by the Tekada clan. It was only after a betrayal by Tekada's closest allies which allowed Ieyasu Tokugawa to finally unify Japan once again under a Shogunate. The Edo period marks the ascension of Tokugawa Ieyasu to the rank of Shogun, who established the city of Edo as his capital and thus the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1604.

Yoshitoshi's Explosion triptych was the first design of the two "explosions" I had viewed. I often feel moments of nostalgia when watching modern Anime or comic books, I often see and feel Yoshitoshi's influence and say to myself, "All roads lead to Yoshitoshi's genius". That perspective changed; however, the moment I saw Kuniyoshi's "Explosion" print, the voice inside my head whispered, "Aha, all explosions lead to Kuniyoshi." Upon Googling for the print's title, it occurred to me that both prints referenced a figure named Masakiyo, and as Kuniyoshi's student, Yoshitoshi did a little creative borrowing from Kuniyoshi, so is the way of genius, or as Einstein put it succinctly, "He stood on the shoulders of giants."

I was dismayed, however, by the references to Masakiyo to Sato Masakiyo moniker for the real (Katō Kiyomasa), not to be confused with General Morozumi Masakiyo from Kuniyoshi's print. I thought, wait a minute, this can't be right. Kato Kiyomasa, often celebrated and heavily portrayed by the kabuki theater, while famous for heroic feats in battle, never actually died in battle; he died at the ripe age of 81 after having been poisoned by Ieyasu Tokugawa!

After now having viewed both "explosions", a couple of weeks went by, and Eurika! In the lonely doldrums of the early morning, the genius in me sprang into action or at least found something to stand on. I began immediately cropping the Kuniyoshi-explosion.jpg, writing high on my SEO dreams, pinky and trigger finger slapping ctrl + v; I pasted it right under my underlined and emboldened headline, "A Tale of Two Explosions, Morozumi Masakiyo Dies Twice, Ukiyo-e Style," an Edo Gallery Blog, H1 homepage real estate, baby. I must have fallen off my stool because that was two years ago, or was it two kids? My SEO high, long since crushed by the Soken Wix marketing team spamming my cell with their ritzy L.A. area codes; it gets me every time.

To be continued....

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