In the popular 15th century Noh play Takasago, a Shinto priest meets an old couple using a broom and a rake to tidy the ground beneath a pine tree. They reveal themselves to be the spirits of two famous pine trees, one at Takasago, and one in Sumiyoshi. The elderly couple expounds on the longevity of pine trees, explaining that this vigor is mirrored in their relationship. Yoshitoshi presents the spirits in intricately patterned and embossed Noh robes. Though the moon does not appear in the print, its gentle light bathes the scene. As pine trees symbolize longevity, this play is considered appropriate for New Year’s Day and other happy occasions.
The son of a Tokyo physician, Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (né Kinzaburo Yoshioka) is considered one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e art. 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.