The kabuki drama Kanadehon Chushingura presents a dramatized version of the true story of the 47 loyal ronin who gave their own lives to avenge their master’s death. The youngest of the 47 was Oishi Chikara, called Rikiya in the play. In Act VII, Rikiya must deliver a secret letter to his father Yuranosuke, the leader of the vendetta plot. Yuranosuke waits in a teahouse in the Gion area of Kyoto, feigning a dissipated life so that the villain, Moronao, will not suspect danger until it is too late. As Rikiya cannot openly deliver the message, he stands outside the teahouse, holding the letterbox, and raps softly on the gate with the hilt of his sword.
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.