Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞) / Toyokuni III (三代豊国)

Print: Imaginary performance with actors in the roles of (from right) Bandō Shūka I as Sadatō's wife (tsuma) Sodehagi (貞任妻袖萩), Abe Sadatō (阿部貞任), Hachiman Tarō Yoshiie (八幡太郎義家) and others in lion, tiger and elephant costumes

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Dates: 1850,created
Dimensions: 9.6 in,13.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print

Signed: shingen no ōju (by special request of the publisher) Toyokuni ga
Publisher: Miyakozawa (Marks U227 - seal 25-446)
Censor seals: Hama and Kinugasa

Related links: Library of Congress; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (right panel); Hankyu Culture Foundation - right panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation - center panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation - left panel;

Physical description:

Notice that in this Kunisada triptych there are performers dressed up as stylized a lion, tiger and elephant. "Animals were played by actors wearing nuigurumi [縫いぐるみ?] ("sewn-together coverings")."


So who were the guys who dressed up as animals... and other stuff about actors

Samuel L. Leiter in "Edo Kabuki: The Actor's World" in Impressions in 2010 on page 122 discussed the hierarchy of actors within the entire kabuki structure. Nidai were the top rank and were given certain privileges reserved just a select few. All of the others were nidaishita or the lower ranks. Nidai literally meant 'title' and nidaishita were 'below title'. "During the Edo period, the principal system of classifying "below title" actors (also called shitamawari, or "going around below") was to divide them into the two categories of chūdori, or "mid-range actors," and shita tachiyaku, or "first-floor male role actor," because of the location of their dressing rooms, but they were also popularly called by several other names, one of which I'll discuss shortly. "First-floor actors of male roles" were extras in crowd scenes, filled in the background in court scenes, cavorted as animals, including being the fore or rear legs of horses, and served as stagehands." [The use of bold type is our choice.]

Later, on page 123, Leiter wrote: "The "below title" female-role specialists, by the way, were not counted among the members of either the third-floor or first-floor "below title" groups; they were segregated into their own dressing room. This was on a level between the first and third floors but, because of regulations against three-story buildings, called the "mid-second floor" (chūnikai), or what might be dubbed the "mezzanine." "Mid-second floor" thus became one of the alternative terms for female- role specialists. From the outside, the theater indicated a two-story building. The logic of having a "third floor" but not a second, as well as the exact architectural arrangements, remain a puzzlement."

"Just as in society at large, there was little or no upward mobility for "below tide" actors. Most were forced to spend their entire lives in the lower ranks." (Ibid.)

"Only a dozen or so Edo actors in the two-hundred-fifty-year period demonstrated enough grit, ambition and talent to rise to "title" status without a star father. A sam- pling includes Kikugorō I (1717-1783), son of an usher; Utaemon I (1719-1791), son of a doctor; Kikunojō IV (1782-1812), son of a teahouse proprietor; and, of course, the only low-ranking actors to become zagashira , Nakazō I, son of either a ronin or a ferry guard, and Kodanji IV (1812-1864), son of a seller of fuse cords for smokers' pipes. In most cases, at least one parent was somehow connected to the theater." (Ibid., pp. 123-124)