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Toshidama Japanese Prints

It is so easy to miss what’s going on in Japanese prints – sometimes just looking hard isn’t enough. There are two prints on this page, one is of a female warrior battling a man and the other is of a male warrior doing the same thing. Surprisingly – they both

look very like each other. The print on the right represents the young hero Yoshitsune-no Minamoto in his famous fight with the giant monk Benkei on Gojo Bridge. The print at the top of the page represents a female warrior of a similar period Tomoyoe Gozen fighting with (and most likely decapitating) Musashi Saburoemon Arikuni. The source for these characters is the Heiki Monogatari, an epic poem written by collaboration from oral traditions in the fourteenth century that describes the bloody wars of attrition between the Minamoto clan and the Taira clan in the twelfth century.

The picture…

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Toshidama Japanese Prints

I suppose that if you were to ask most people about traditional Japanese culture, they would talk about geishas and samurai, sushi, kimonos and bonsai trees. It’s likely though that few people would know much about the bonsai tree and probably would not have seen one. In many ways, however, the bonsai is a very good illustration of Japanese cultural concerns… its roots are in zen – the contemplation of nature – but primarily it is an art form that is about controlling nature, packaging nature if you like and this fits very well with the traditional Japanese psyche. The word comes from bon meaning a tray and sai meaning planting. The oldest known bonsai tree is 500 years old and is in the Tokyo Imperial Palace; incredibly there is a record of it being cultivated in 1610 by Tokugawa lemitsu. The hobby is quite popular here in the UK…

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