Omiya Kyusuke, 1867 (censor seal indicates year of the snake). Broadsheet (354 x 235 mm) with contemporary hand-coloring (several wormholes in the face of the robber and one above his head; portion of the paper on upper right defective, just touching text), affixed at upper corners to a sheet of modern paper. Very good. Item #3604
DRAMATIC ILLUSTRATION OF THE STRANGE TALE OF YABUHARA KENGYO, a villainous blind masseur / accupuncturist who was the subject of many Japanese folktales of the 19th-20th century. It is thought that he is based on some historical personage, but this has never been verified. The story goes that he killed his teacher and devoted himself to a life of crime. Here the evil Yabuhara, with an acupuncture needle in his mouth, having untied the victim's belt, rustles through the poor peddler's clothes seeking valuables.
THE LEGEND: This fiendish blind masseur was originally named Sugi no Ichi. He kills a peddler in the mountains of Hakone and steals his money. The murderer also kills his teacher (Yabuhara Kengyo I) and then succeeds to his master's name as Yabuhara Kengyo II. He becomes a moneylender and becomes involved with the teacher's wife and so on.
In our print, a statue of Jizo, protector of souls of deceased children, can be discerned on the far right, illuminated by lightning which flashes against the black night sky; the small stone that are piled up in front of it refer to the Sisyphean labors that these poor souls are condemned to do: stack stones on top of each other for all eternity, while demons gleefully knock them down.
Jizo is also the protector of wayfaring travelers, which is curious because the victim of the present scene was himself a wayfarer! Perhaps the artist is implying that, having chosen a holy place for such crime, Yabuhara will be headed straight to hell. Our print of the Yabuhara story is from a series based upon popular kodan, or oral narratives. The kodan were often drawn from actual historical events that raconteurs spun into captivating narratives. The print names Ichiryusai Bunsha as the kodan who told this story, probably Ichiryusai Bunsha II (d. 1881). The author of the text itself, Kanagaki Robun, was a very popular writer during this period. Here he took the kodan account of the crime and gave it a literary polish. His extraordinary text reads:
"A roll of thunder struck the peddler / street performer with terror, causing him to lose his breath in the mountains around Hakone. While traveling, it is good to have a companion to share the road, and the [blind] man who joined him on this journey also offered kindly [medical] treatment. But he was blinded by avarice, turning all to darkness before his eyes. He groped about, searching [his victim's] waistband. The waves lapped the lakeshore, unaware of the serious crime. Rather than "Sai no kawara" [see below]], this man's destination will be to a little hell or a great hell. Ultimately, he will be brought before the register of Enma, lord of the underworld, and once placed before the mirror of judgment, the sins of this blind man will become clear."
NOTE: "Sai no kawara" is the name of the riverbank in the underworld where deceased children are condemned to limbo and where the bodhisattva Jizo (Ksitigarbha) protects their souls.
We are grateful to Matthew Fraleigh for his translation and research.