Ukiyo-e Prints


Port Townsend, Washington






Subject: Tsuchigumo (The Ground Spider)


From the series "100 Roles of Baikō"



Baikō  hyakushu no uchi

Print Size: 14" x 9 1/4"

Date: 1894

Signed: Toyohara Kunichika hitsu

Carver seal: Nisei hori Ei tō

The inset in the upper left is said to be Ichikawa Sadanji as Hosei.

Illustrated on-line:

There are copies of this print in the collection of the Hagi Uragami Museum,

at Waseda University and at the Hankyu Culture Foundation.





Amy Riegle Newland in her wonderful and informative book Time Present and Time Past: Images of a Forgotten Master - Toyohara Kunichika 1835-1900, pp. 26-27 relates some very interesting information regarding this series.  Newland recounts the story of Kunichika's strained relations with Ichikawa Danjurō IX of whom he had created numerous images. Danjurō supposedly complained to Onoe Kikugorō V (also known as Onoe Baikō) that actors were expected to grease the palms of artists and publishers although portrait prints were considered pro forma and that even with all that "...Kunichika is nevertheless still pretty arrogant." Accounts state that Kikugorō then passed Danjurō's comments onto Kunichika causing a strain between that actor and the this artist.


Newland also clears up the question of the use of the name Baikō in the series title: "The name 'Baikō' in the title of One hundred roles of Baikō was originally the haiku pen name of Onoe Kikugorō I (1717-83) and eventually adapted as the stage name by the members of the Kikugorō line."


Baikō means "Plum Luck."


According to Samuel Leiter in the New Kabuki Encyclopedia (p. 505) Onoe Kikugorō V (1844-1903) was born in Asakusa, Edo the grandson of Kikugorō III. "Although not quite as versatile as his grandfather, upon whom his art was based, this major actor was, nevertheless, capable of playing with incredible skill and inventiveness in a wide enough variety of roles to earn him the kaneru yakusha label." A kaneru yakusha is an "All-around actor" or "man of a thousand faces," an actor who can play any role.


Born into an impoverished family he debuted in 1848 with the stage name of Ichimura Kuroemon and was quickly recognized as a prodigy. In 1868 he assumed the name Kikugorō V and was soon regarded as one of the three greatest actors of the Meiji period (1868-1908). In 1887 Kikugorō V and Danjurō IX performed in the   first kabuki play seen by the emperor .


In 1901 Kikugorō suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, but impaired returned to the stage  in 1903. Later that year he had another stroke and died.






     At the beginning of Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, if memory serves me correctly, Noah and his family are asea in their ark with all of God's creatures in attendance in pairs. There are giraffes and aardvarks and pygmy hedgehogs and unicorns and griffins and behemoths --- all of God's creations. After some time the extended human members of Noah's family started to complain about the lack of variety in their diets. At this point --- and this is clearly not in the Bible --- someone suggested that the behemoths wouldn't really be missed. So they ate one of them. Well, logic dictated that if you ate one you might as well eat the other. But a steady diet of reheated behemoth leftovers goes a long way in a very short time and the daughter's-in-law began to grumble things like "Not behemoth again tonight!" So, the unicorn started  looking sweeter and tastier all the time. Hence, poof, no more unicorns. There were unicorns, but Noah's family ate them and a lot of other creatures which today we think of fabulous.


     Even with the suspension of disbelief this begs the question: "Why didn't they eat the creepy crawly things like spiders and snakes, etc.?" The answer is self-evident: they just weren't very appealing. But then why the behemoths? I suppose that a couple of spiders were going to feed a whole family of eight. However, this is a dispute which we will leave to greater minds than our own. At least, if they had eaten the spiders or the fleas we wouldn't have to deal with them in our lives today.





      Basil Hall Chamberlain (1850-1935) in his translation of the Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters (古事記 or こじき) which is the oldest written text in Japan (712 A.D.) gives us the first reference to tsuchigumo. In section XLVIII it says:


"When [His Augustness Kamu-yamato-ihare-biko] made his progress, and reached the great cave of Osaka, earth-spiders with tails, [namely] eighty bravoes, were in the cave awaiting him." (1)


     After entering the cave His Augustness contrives to slay the eighty bravoes at a feast. On the cue of a song which he will sing his retainers are to slaughter the earth-spiders which he refers to as tsuchigumo in a footnote. This notation places Chamberlain firmly in role of cultural anthropologist. He states that "There is little doubt by this well-known name [i.e., tsuchigumo], which has given rise to much conjecture, a race of cave-dwelling savages or a class of cave-dwelling robbers is intended. Motowori supposes that their name had its origin in a comparison of their habits with those of the spider." (2)


     Donald L. Philippi in his more modern translation of this same classic from 1968 iterates what Chamberlain had to say and adds "The Tuti-gumo must have been pit-dwellers. See Ashton, I, 71-72. The Ainus of the Kurile islands still lived in pit-dwellings in the early twentieth century, according to Torii Ryūzō (Les A´nous des ╬les Kouriles [Tokyo University, 1919], pp. 235-43)." (3)


1. The Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters --- translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan, 1993, p. 173.

2. Ibid., p. 174, n. 2.

3. Kojiki: Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Donald L. Philippi, University of Tokyo Press, 1995, p. 174, n.1.