The Tale of the Soga Brothers

  • Exhib_slideshow_exhibition_soga_14729

    Gosōtei Hirosada (c. 1845–1864). 'Actor Nakamura Tamashichi I as Kobayashi Asahimaru, Actor Takaoka Gadō II as Soga no Jūrō Sukenari, and Actor Ichikawa Ebizō V as Soga no Gorō Tokimune,' Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1853. Woodblock print; ink and color

June 27, 2013 - August 25, 2013
Honolulu Museum of Art


Exhibition Overview

In 1176, a land dispute between two rival heirs of an estate in Izu Province (modern-day Shizuoka Prefecture) escalated to violence, and an innocent man was killed. The victim’s wife later remarried, and his two sons adopted the name of their stepfather—Soga. Nevertheless, the boys remained deeply scarred by the loss of their father. As they grew, they vowed revenge against their father’s killer, an assistant of shōgun Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199). To achieve that goal, they diligently trained themselves in the military arts for nearly two decades. Finally, in 1193, the brothers launched an attack against Yoritomo’s camp. They exacted revenge upon their father’s killer, but lost their lives in the ensuing struggle, and their legend long endured in the collective memory of Japanese people.

The Tale of the Soga Brothers (Soga monogatari), a 12-volume novel first published in 1644 that quickly grew to become one of the most famous works of early modern Japanese literature, carefully recounts this story. On view are several volumes of that novel along with a suite of prints, designed by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) and annotated by Ryūkatei Tanekazu (1821–1907), which illustrate the legend. The Tale of the Soga Brothers also inspired numerous theatrical adaptations, and presented in the alcove of the adjoining Japan Gallery are portraits of Kabuki actors in the roles of these beloved characters. For more art related to samurai culture, visit the exhibition Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor through Aug 18.