Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Masaoka (正岡) from the series Lives of Wise and Heroic Women (Kenjo reppu den - 賢女烈婦傳)

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Dates: created,circa 1843
Dimensions: 9.75 in,14.0 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print.

Signed: Chōōrō Kuniyoshi ga
Publisher: Ibaya Senzaburō
(Marks 127 - seal 11-001)
Censor's seal: (Probably) Yoshimura

Related links: British Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Museums Scotland;

Physical description:

Masaoka protecting Tsugichiyo-maru from the apparition of an old warrior monk.


The child mentioned above is barely visible in this print. It it weren't for the small left hand on the right-upper thigh of Masaoka and the top and back of the child's head hidden in the folds of the kimono it would be very easy to miss its presence.

Masaoka's outer robe is a delight to study in detail. There are numerous origami cranes flying among red and green stylized clouds, what appear to be the black and white sails of boats hidden behind the tops of pine trees, four areas of shibori tie-dyed decorations in red, black, green and gray (and white) plus several roundels of frothy waves toward the bottom.

The name Tsugichiyo-maru appears at the British Museum web site display of their copy of this print. This is repeated at the Kuniyoshi Project and here, but does not seem to appear anywhere else. In fact, elsewhere the boy is referred to as Tsuruchiyo (鶴千代). On one print in Boston he is called 'Tsurukiyo'.


In the play The Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai is a description of the role of Masaoka. "Clan nurse Masaoka is considered the greatest and most difficult of all kabuki roles for a female-role specialist (onnagata). Masaoka demonstrates unwavering loyalty, protecting the young clan lord, [Ashikaga] Tsuruchiyo, even as she watches her own child being killed before her eyes.... The foundation for the current style of playing Masaoka was established by Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (1838-1903)."

Quoted from: Masterpieces of Kabuki: Eighteen Plays on Stage, edited by Brandon and Leiter, p. 102.