At the beginning of the 9th century, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, known as General Tamura, was sent by the emperor to subdue the aboriginal populations in the Seizaka Mountains. Following a successful campaign, he founded the famous Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. In the noh play, Tamura, a travelling priest arrives at Kiyomizu on a moonlit, spring night. The ghost of Tamuramaro appears to him twice: first under a blossoming cherry tree as a boy sweeping fallen petals, and again, as the brave general. Yoshitoshi portrays both ghostly encounters at once: Tamuramaro stands with the broom beneath the cherry blossoms, but wears the armor of a general. The grey mask evokes a noh mask, strengthening the prints allusion to Tamura.
The son of a Tokyo physician, Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (né Kinzaburo Yoshioka) is considered one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e. As a young boy he showed remarkable talent and began to study under the renowned Kuniyoshi at the age of 12. Yoshitoshi also studied under Yosai and was adopted by the Tsukioka family.
As modernization pushed ahead, Yoshitoshi suffered a nervous breakdown in 1872, living in poverty and ceasing all artistic production. A year later, he resumed working; adopting the artist name Taiso and fulfilling his creative potential. In 1885, he began one of his most acclaimed series, 100 Views of the Moon. In the spring of 1892, he suffered his final mental breakdown and was committed to the Sugamo Asylum. On the 9th of June 1892, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 53.
Yoshitoshi’s prints are known for their eerie and imaginative component. He worked in a Japan undergoing rapid change, straddling the domains of the old, feudal systems and the new, modern world. His considerable imagination and originality imbued his prints with a sensitivity and honesty rarely seen in ukiyo-e of this time period. From ghost stories to folktales, graphic violence to the gentle glow of the moon, Yoshitoshi not only offers compositional and technical brilliance, but also unfettered passion.