Eimei nijuhasshuku

Twenty-eight plebeian verses about
the constellations of glorious figures

The social and cultural roots of news nishikie

By Mark Schreiber

Yoshiiku and Yoshitoshi

In 1866, the second year of Keio, two young woodblock drawers, Ochiai Yoshiiku and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, engaged in a friendly competition. Each produced a series of 14 pictures, on separate sheets, of bloody encounters by notorious historical and legendary figures. The collection, known as the Eimei nijuhasshuku [Twenty-eight plebian verses about (the constellations of) glorious figures], was published by Kinseido.

Woodblock prints showing gruesome scenes are commonly referred to as "chimidoroe" (blood-stained pictures) or muzan'e (atrocious pictures). Eimei nijuhasshuku is unique among woodblock prints of the day in the sense that its pictures reveled entirely in bloody scenes. The titles of the pictures form a sophisticated scheme of rhyming mnemonics (goroawase) that parodies a Buddhist sutra, often used for fortune-telling, called the Sukuyogyo. The pictures themselves are said to symbolize the ugliness and karma of human beings.

The "sukuyo" (also read "shukuyo") in the name of this sutra refers to the twenty-eight "suku" (constellations) and the seven "yo" (luminaries) of the Indian celestial calendar that came to influence the ordering of life in the classical world of China, Korea, and Japan.

While the "shuku" of Eimei nijuhasshuku graphically means "plebeian verse", linguistically it can also be read "suku" -- as can a very familiar compound which graphically means "excellent verse". The "shuku" of Eimei nijuhasshuku is very likely both a parody of the artistic quest for "excellence" and an allusion to the 28 constellations that figure in the fates of the characters in the illustrated stories.

The Eimei nijuhasshuku were written by a number of popular writers of the day, including Sansantei Arindo, whose real name was Jono Denpei, and who was one of the founders, with Yoshiiku and Nishida Densuke, of the Tokyo nichinichi shinbun in 1872. It was Jono and Yoshiiku, and the publisher Gusokuya, who two years later conceived the idea of a news nishikie under Tonichi's banner.

An art historian who did not happen to know such biographical facts would have to be struck by the similarities of the Eimei nijuhasshuku muzan'e and the more gruesome of the Tokyo nichinichi shinbun nishikie. Other elements, like the layout and the placement of the stories, are also similar. (MS)

Two examples

Here are two examples from Eimei nijuhasshuku, one by Yoshiiku and one by Yoshitoshi.

Yoshiiku -- Ten'ichibo's scheme

Yoshitoshi -- Shirai Gonpachi

The Eimei saga has been renacted by Hanawa Kazuichi and Maruo Suehiro in their Edo Showa kyosaku MUZAN'E Eimei nijuhasshuku.