For the 2002-2003 exhibition of Japanese prints in the Anne van Biema Collection titled Masterful Illusions, the Freer-Sackler Gallery produced a promotional bookmark using an image of a print by Yoshitoshi, "Hōryūkaku ni Ryōyū Ugoku" or "Two Heroes in Battle at Horyūkakū." Materials in the Freer-Sackler Library make it possible to research some of the background of the print, as well as other prints depicting the same story.
The scene is from the book Nansō Satomi Hakkenden (The Chronicles of the Eight Dog Heroes of the Satomi Clan of Nansō), a 106 volume work written between 1814 and 1842 by Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848). The title of the Hakkenden refers to eight heroes, each with the word "dog" (Inu) in his name, all of whom are the magical offspring of a dog and a princess. Each of the eight represents a traditional Confucian virtue in the story, which is set in the fifteenth century. Two of the heroes, Inuzuka Shino (on the roof peak), and Inukai Kempachi, are shown in the included images confronting each other on the Hōryū Tower of the Koga Castle. Kempachi has been ordered to capture Shino, who has been falsely accused of spying. In the fight that follows, they both fall from the tower into the Tone River below, survive, and discover they are brothers.
The Hakkenden is an example of a Japanese fiction genre known as yomihon, or a book for reading (as opposed to viewing pictures) that developed in the eighteenth century. Yomihon were frequently set in Japan or China's past, drawing from classical themes and history. Dramatic scenes from the Hakkenden were frequently used in kabuki plays, which were the subject of prints. The author of the Hakkenden, Bakin, himself purchased a copy of the triptych print by Kuniyoshi shown above at the right.
In addition to many books on Japanese prints, and the works of the artists Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi, the Freer-Sackler Library has in its collections the book Hakkenden no sekai or "World of the Hakkenden" which is is entirely devoted to prints, paintings and other artistic works depicting scenes and characters from the Hakkenden.
Clark, Timothy. Kuniyoshi : from the Arthur R. Miller collection. London : Royal Academy of Arts ; New York : Distributed in the U.S. by Harry N. Abrams, c2009, p. 63.
Early modern Japanese literature : an anthology, 1600-1900. New York : Columbia University Press, c2002, pp. 885-909.
Hakkenden no sekai. [Matsuyama-shi] : Ehime-ken Bijutsukan ; [Chiba-shi] : Chiba-shi Bijutsukan ; [Tokyo] : Bijutsukan Renraku Kyogikai, 2008.
Schaap, Robert. Heroes & ghosts : Japanese prints by Kuniyoshi, 1797-1861. Leiden : Hotei Publishing, c1998, p. 116.
Yonemura, Ann. Masterful illusions : Japanese prints in the Anne Van Biema collection. Seattle : University of Washington Press ; Washington, D.C. : Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2002, pp. 248-249.