Yoshitoshi was an active Japanese artist from 1839 to 1893.
He also created woodblock prints under the assumed
name of Taiso Yoshitoshi.
Regardless of the name used, this master was deemed
one of the greatest innovators and creative geniuses of the
Ukiyo-e world of art. When
he died, he penned a special Haiku poem that read,
“Holding back the night - with its increasing brilliance
– the summer moon”.
While some woodblock print artists had a short
career, Yoshitoshi’s life of painting stretched out over
two eras, which included the latter old feudal Japan years,
as well as the early new modern Japan years.
Because of this, his work was diverse.
Yoshitoshi was extremely interested in capturing
things from the new Japan but also wanted to make sure he
continued to show reverence to the old.
One of the legends left behind was his fight with
technology, especially in his later years.
For instance, most of the Japanese woodblock print
artists were turning to new methods of technology, something
Yoshitoshi was not interested in learning.
For instance, while others were using lithography and
photography, Yoshitoshi continued using ancient methods of
to keep tradition alive, Yoshitoshi pushed hard until his
death to bring this art form to light, which he did.
Yoshitoshi was born in Edo, which is today’s Tokyo.
Born to a rich merchant father who used his wealth to
gain samurai status, Yoshitoshi was sent to live with his
uncle at the age of three.
This uncle had no children so he took special care
and interest in Yoshitoshi’s life.
Known early in life as Owariya Yonejiro, his name was
changed when he went to work for Kuniyoshi who was an
exceptional Japanese woodblock print master.
Yoshitoshi began his apprenticeship in 1850 when he
was just 11 years of age.
Yoshitoshi was never officially listed as
Kuniyoshi’s successor although he was rated as his top
Yoshitoshi created his first woodblock print in 1853.
several years, nothing more was seen.
It is believed by historians that illness suffered by
Kuniyoshi was the reason.
Unfortunately, his beloved master died in 1861 at
which time Yoshitoshi produced 44 prints over the next year.
If you were to look at the early creations, you would
notice much violence and death depicted. Again, historians believe this was directly the result of the
old feudal Japan collapsing around him.
From 1862 to 1869, fame followed Yoshitoshi, as he
produced some incredible woodblock prints.
However, because so much of his work related to
violence, he stopped receiving commissions for his work.
Because of this, he was overcome with depression in
Yoshitoshi lived in filth, although he stayed faithful to
his mistress named Okoto. To help bring in money, his mistress had to sell her personal
were so poor that planks in the floor were burned for
By 1873, things started to turn around for Yoshitoshi.
He changed his attitude and started creating more
woodblock prints. Realizing his name had a bad connotation to it, he changed it
to the family name of Taiso, which interestingly, translates
in English to “great resurrection”
As newspapers were common now, Yoshitoshi was given
the opportunity to create a special print for one.
Even with his new focus on painting, he and his
mistress stayed poor. To
keep the two alive, she begin working in a brothel until
Then in 1877, the Satsuma Rebellion, a cause trying
to stop the new Japan, began.
With this, woodblock prints, especially those made
with old techniques were extremely popular and in high
opened a new door for Yoshitoshi, bringing to him wealth.
This same year, Yoshitoshi took a new mistress by the
name of Oraku who also sold her personal possessions, as a
means of supporting him.
One year later, the two broke up with her also going
to work for a brothel house.
From 1877 to 1880, the well-known woodblock print
artists had all passed away.
This meant that the art was fading while the new
Japan was pressing in.
Not giving up on his techniques and standards, he
continued his work. Then
in 1880, he met Sakamaki Taiko, having two children. Even though the two married four years later, he still
piddled with his art. However,
his wife’s love and encouragement had a positive influence
Now more settled, Yoshitoshi spent his latter years
being highly production.
In fact, from 1885 to 1892, he painted two
magnificent series, one called New Forms of Thirty-Six
Ghosts and One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.
Each of these series was a depiction of Kabuki
actors, along with theatrical scenes.
To maintain some of old Japan’s artful traditions,
he worked along side his friend and actor, Danjuro.
Even with his zest for life and determination to keep
old Japan alive, he began to suffer mental health problems,
often suffering from delusions.
As he grew worse, the only resolution was to have him
committed to a special facility for the mentally ill.
Rather than staying and getting help, Yoshitoshi left
in 1892 and rented rooms.
Just three weeks after being out of the hospital,
Yoshitoshi died at the age of 53 from a cerebral hemorrhage.
While Yoshitoshi’s fame was lost for many years, it
was revisited in 1970.
What current art masters discovered was the immense
depth of detailing, coupled with quality and originality.
While he never had the chance to realize, Yoshitoshi
did in fact keep the old feudal Japan alive, which is
appreciated around the world to this day.