Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Artist's seal: kiri
(Marks U174 - seal closest to 25-140)
The seals read 京次 on the center and right panels
and 京治 on the left one.
Censor's seal: Hama
Karukaya is the father of Ishidōmaru, but at one point neither of them knew this. However, this is explained to some extent by Izumi Kaminishi in Explaining Pictures: Buddhist Propaganda And Etoki Storytelling in Japan on page 131:
"...Ishidōmaru returns to Mount Kōya to study under Karukaya. A few years later Karukaya, after seeing the Amida Buddha at Zenkōji in a dream, moves to Zenkōji, Nagano. When Ishidōmaru later learns, also in a dream from the Zenkōji Buddha, that his teacher was none other than his father, he moves to Zenkōji. Posthumously Karukaya and Ishidōmaru became exalted as the father and son Jizō Bodhisattvas.
The pietistic layman Karukaya represents the Kōya-hijiri (Holy Man of Kōya) who advocated the holy order of the Mount Kōya Shingon school. Mount Kōya, a famous Buddhist center, was a veritable asylum for male renuncients protected by the system of feminine exclusion known in Japanese as nyonin kinsei.
Henri Joly, who is not always the most accurate source, but still a great one, gave a different version in his 1908 volume Legend in Japanese Art: A Description of Historical Episodes, Legendary Characters, Folk-lore, Myths, Religious Symbolism, Illustrated in the Arts of Old Japan on pages 162-163:
"428. KARUKAYA DOSHIN 苅萱道臣. It was popularly believed in olden times that jealous women appeared with hair like snakes, and Ippen Shōnin, as seen above, sometimes suffered from such delusions. Another well-known. personage, also who was He Kato Sayemon Shigeuji, Daimio in Kyushu (Tsukushi), a much-married man, fled from his house one day because and mistresses the hair of his wife and mistresses took the shape of writhing serpents. He took refuge in the mountains, where he lived an hermit's life under the new name Karukaya Doshin.
There is a story relating how he met wandering in Koyasan a young man named Ishidomaru ; struck with the adolescent's face, he asked him various questions, and found that Ishido was looking for his father. Karukaya then became aware of the fact that the boy was his own son, but worldly matters were for ever forgotten by the hermit, and telling the boy to return home he passed on his way."
The British Museum curatorial files give a bit more and somewhat different information about this triptych than does the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The British Museum says:
"The child Ishido-maru (centre) making inquiries about finding his father of the monk Karukaya Doshin (right) at Kongobu-ji (the monastery of the Vajra Summit) on Mt. Koya, the warrior Oya stands on the left..."
Not only does the British Museum give the exact location, but they also give a different name to the figure on the left. However, Jim Breen's web site on Japanese language gives the characters 与次 as Yoji, as does the museum in Boston. We will try to resolve this difference at some time.