Gishi Shiju-Shichi Zu (Chushingura, 47 Ronin)

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The Chushingura is based on a true story and relates the deeds of 47 samurai who became ronin (masterless) in 1701, after their lord had been forced to commit ritual suicide (seppuku) for assaulting a court official who had insulted him. The ronin avenged their master by killing the court official after patiently planning for over a year. They were themselves then forced to commit seppuku.

The story was extremely popular in Meiji times and Gekko created many illustrations and prints relating to it. The best known series is his Gishi Shiju-Shichi Zu. This set of oban size prints includes a title page and a print resembling a memorial tablet. The British museum list 52 prints and says that this set of colour woodblock prints was published in 1902 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the event. However 53 prints can be found, dated as early as 1895 and as late as 1903.

Three prints exist in entirely different versions, these are the prints of Horibe Yasuhyoue Taketsune , Katsuta Shinzaemon and Fuwa Kazuemon Masatane. In each case one version of the prints is dated in the mid 1890’s and the other in the early 1900’s which strongly suggests the whole series was printed at least twice. The prints were published by both Takegawa Risaburo and Matsuki Heikichi and may also be found in a creped version.

This is however not the only time Gekko was involved with illustrating this story. He illustrated a number of books about the story including an English language version. The Japanese books can be seen here, the English version here. He also produced a half oban size set of 12 prints which can be found bound as an album and at times uncut 2 prints per page. He produced a huge black and white print depicting all the ronin on one page and a fascinating print depicting the ronin presenting the head of their master’s enemy to his grave stone. This extremely rare print is reputedly the last print Gekko designed and it was accompanied by a page depicting a group of Meiji notables, including Gekko and possibly a third page of poems about the ronin. The Gishi Shiju-Shichi Zu are shown over 3 pages, the titles given are those found on the British Museum site but other translations of the kanji are possible. The other ronin pieces are on the fourth page in this section.

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