016 Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Usui Matagorô Slaying the Giant White Monkey.

The image portrays psychedelically the obscure and probably fictitious samurai-hero Usui Matagorô slaying a giant white monkey in the Hida mountain, apparently by order of his overlord, the warrior Minamoto (Kiso) Yoshinaka (源 義仲, 1154-1184).

It is unclear when the legend of Matagorô arose, though his presence in this Utagawa Kuniyoshi's print, originally titled Usui Matagorô Slaying the Giant White Monkey (「碓井又五郎飛弾山中ニ打大猿ヲ」, Usui Matagorô hida sanchû ni ôzaru o utsu) dates it to at least the early 19th century. The information obtain for us comes from a contemporary brochure about an annual festival in the town in Aichi (Kariya) that has a float of Matagoro slaying the monkey in it. The brochure identified Matagoro as one the four generals (shitenno) of Minamoto Yoshinaka, hero of the Heike monogatari.

Yoshinaka himself was a tragic hero immortalized in the Tales of the Heike ((平家物語, Heike Monogatari) This epic account describes the figures on both sides of the battles that marked the most important turning point in Japanese history, the founding of the first shogunate (military dictatorship). Yoshinaka was killed in battle by his cousin Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1180), his rival for military control of Kyoto and the emperor. His defeat allowed Yoritomo to become Japan's first shogun in 1185.

Details: GIF file, 1000x1426 px.; 300 dpi.