The Duel at Takadanobaba

from the Righteous Samurai Collection, 1920

by Matsumoto Fūko

IHL Cat. #2302


The fourteenth print appearing in Volume 1 of Gishi taikan, edited by Fukumoto Nichinan. 

Nakayama Yasubei 中山安兵衛 (1670-1703), later to become Horibe Yasubei 堀部安兵衛 , was considered the finest swordsman of the Righteous Samurai (Forty-seven Rōnin). Orphaned as a child, he was raised by a master swordsman in Edo who became his adoptive uncle. In 1694 he came to the aid of his uncle who was ambushed by his rival at Takadanobaba after being lured there for an honorable duel.[1] Yasubei avenged his uncle’s death by slaughtering at least three of the attackers. Impressed by his swordsmanship, Horibe Yahei, a samurai of the Akō domain, offered the young man the hand of his daughter and the honor of adoption into the Horibe family. Later, both father and adopted son were among the Forty-seven Rōnin who avenged their lord, Asano Naganori, Lord of Akō, and were sentenced to commit seppuku. The print pictures the aftermath of the fight witnessed by a crowd of onlookers, which included Yahei's daughter.[2]

Horibe Yasubei became the leader of the radical faction of the Forty-seven Rōnin who, after the death of Lord Asano by seppuku, advocated for immediate direct attack on Kira, the shogun's master of ceremonies and the target of Asano's attack at the shogun's castle. Ōishi Yoshio 大石良雄 (1659-1703), Lord Asano's chamberlain, argued for a more cautious approach at first before seeking revenge, but would eventually reconcile with Horibe and the radical faction to mount their fatal attack on Kira.

[1]  This incident at Takadanobaba is described by Henry Smith II as a "public brawl" in his article "The Capacity of Chūshingura: Three Hundred Years of Chūshingura", Henry D. Smith II, appearing in Monumenta Nipponica, Spring, 2003, Vol. 58, No. 1, Sophia University, p. 11. Stable URL:

[2] "Unanimist Visions of Nation and Migration in Maedakō Hiroichirō’s Santō senkyaku (Third-class Passengers, 1921)", Kristina S. Vassil appearing in Japanese Language and Literature , Vol. 52, No. 2 (OCTOBER 2018),  American Association of Teachers of Japanese, p. 421.

Print Details

artist signature and seal

大正庚申春二月Taishō kōshin Spring second month (April 1920)

click on image to enlarge


Print Commentary from Volume 1 of Gishi Taikan

image source: The Early Japanese Book Portal Database, Art Research Center AkoRH-R0419-1

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Tribute Preceding Print by

Gotō Shinpei 後藤新平 (1857-1929), politician and Mayor of Tokyo City, from Volume 1 of Gishi Taikan

image source: The Early Japanese Book Portal Database, Art Research Center AkoRH-R0419-1

Artist Profile

Matsumoto Fūko 松本楓湖 (1840-1923) 

Fūko was born as the 3rd son of Matsumoto Soan in Kawachi county of Hitachi Province (now Inashiki City of Ibaraki Prefecture) on September 14, 1840. His given name was Toshirō.

In 1853, when Fūko was 14 years old, he went to Edo and studied painting under Oki Ichiga 沖一峨 (1798-1855), an official painter of Tottori Domain, known for his kacho-e (flower and bird prints). Fūko later studied painting under Satake Eikai 佐竹永海 (1803-1874), an official painter of Hikone Domain, and then under Kikuchi Yōsai 菊池容斎(1788-1878), an official painter of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the leading painter of historical pictures at that time.

In 1898, Fūko participated in establishing the Japan Art Institute (Nihon Bijutsu-In) in 1898. In 1907 he became a judge at the first annual Bunten, the exhibition of the Japan Art Institute, serving as a juror for four years and exhibiting his work there. In addition to Bunten, his work was also exhibited at the 4th Naikoku Kangyō  Hakurankai (National Industrial Exhibition) and other venues. In 1919, he became a member of the Imperial Art Academy (Teikoku Bijutsu-In). 

Establishing a private art school at his home, he attracted numerous pupils including Imamura Shikō 今村紫紅 (1880–1916),Hayami Gyoshū 速水御舟 (1894-1935), Shimazaki Ryuu 島崎柳塢 (1865-1937)  , Kamoshita Chōko 鴨下晁湖  (1890-1967), Takahashi Kōko 髙橋廣湖 (c.1875-1912), Omoda Seiju 小茂田青樹 (1891-1933) , Iwai Shōzan 岩井昇山 (1871-1953) and Nakajima Kiyoyuki 中島清行 (1899-1989). 

Fūko passed away on June 22 of 1923 at the age of 84.

Source: Jyuluck-Do Corporation and A Dictionary of Japanese Artists: Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics, Prints, Lacquer, Laurance P. Roberts, Weatherhill, 1976, p. 105.