During the Edo period, haiku poets often traveled the country in search of inspiration. In this print, Yoshitoshi depicts the famous poet Matsuo Basho, sometimes known as the “old man.” Born into a samurai family, Basho left home at 22 years old to live on a riverbank in Edo and focus on his poetry. Basho traveled throughout Japan, drawing inspiration from its people, customs, and history. Meeting people along the road was one of the pleasures of travel. Here, the travelling poet has come upon a group of farmers celebrating the festival of the harvest moon. A table is decorated with flowers symbolizing autumn. They have spread a straw mat in front of the table and invite the poet to join them for tea and cakes as they enjoy the full moon.
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.