A striking surimono print by Totoya Hokkei (1780 - 1850), with brass background and various metals throughout. Portrayed are two 12th century heroes known for their prowess in the martial arts. Their first encounter took place on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. The older and more experienced warrior priest, Benkei, was bested in combat by the young Ushiwakamaru, later known as Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159 - 1189). In this print, their skill is tested in a game of Go, and once again the younger Ushiwakamaru wins.

In the accompanying poem, Ushiwakamaru is alluded to as a wakamusha, or young warrior. The clenched fist, or kobushi, in addition to emphasizing the frustration of the elder Benkei at being outplayed by his young friend, is also a term related to the practice of hunting with hawks. The final line of the poem directly links the image to the New Year. Dreaming of a hawk in the first dream of the New Year was considered to be auspicious.

wakamusha ni
make oshimi iu
Benkei mo
kobushi o nigiru
taka no hatsuyume

Refusing to admit defeat
to the young warrior,
Benkei clenches his fist
just as a hawk appears
in a New Year's Dream.

The IGS Art Gallery (Chrysanthemum)

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