Artist: Shunbaisai Hokuei (春梅斎北英)

Print: Arashi Rikan II as Miyagi Asojirō in the play Keisei Tsukushi no Tsumagoto

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Dates: created,1832
Dimensions: 9.875 in,15.25 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: color woodblock print with metallic pigment and embossing on paper

Signed: Shunkōsai Hokuei ga
Publishers: Honya Seishichi (Marks 123)
and Kawaji
(Marks U127 - seal 25-104)
Block cutter: Kasuke

Related links: Lyon (another example);Chazen Museum of Art; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes - posted at commons.wikimedia; National Gallery of Victoria; Hankyu Culture Foundation;

Physical description:

Color woodcut with silver pigment and embossing on paper; ōban.

This is an opening scene of firefly-viewing from the kabuki drama Keisei tsukushi no tsumagoto (The Devastating Courtesan Playing the Tsukushi Koto), performed at the Chikugo Theatre in Osaka in the third month of 1832. Chasing fireflies was a common pastime on pleasant summer evenings and is a natural setting for flirtations and romance. The hero of this play, here the actor Arashi Rikan II (1788-1837) shown holding a lantern with the name of the Tsūen (通圓) teahouse along with his short and long swords indicating samurai status, meets his true love among the glittering firefly lights and the drama unfolds as a love story with complications of mistaken identity. Eventual recognition of a poem first written on a round-fan in the opening scene is crucial to the lovers reuniting. However, the poem printed in silver in the night sky in this print design is composed by the actor Rikan II himself, displaying humility in comparing his own skills compared with beauties of nature:

FirefliesFutsutsu kana
I am ashamed ware hazukashiki
Like an ignorant rustic hotaru kana

About forty percent of Hokuei’s known oeuvre depicts Rikan II who was a celebrity known for his versatility as well as his large, expressive eyes. He acceded to the famed Rikan kabuki family name in1828. This short-statured actor with the nick-name “Metoku” (i.e., eye virtue) may have had no dance skills but excelled at both romantic male leads and the onnagata, or women’s roles.

Trans. John Fiorillo, “Surimono-Style Prints by Hokuei,” Impressions. v.20 (1998): 64.

There is a fascinating and telling comment about a less elaborate version of this print illustrated in Osaka Prints by Dean Schwaab - page 155. "This print illustrates the play that Rikan II performed immediately following the long run of Katakiuchi Nito Eiyuki and is, in fact, a companion piece to [#587 in the Lyon Collection, an Ashiyuki print - both published by Iden].... No role, actor's name, or poem is inscribed, and it is doubtful that a version will be found bearing such." [The bold type is ours.] Of course, one of the great things about the print in the Lyon Collection is that it does have a poem written in metallic inks and is a truly deluxe edition.


On the lower part of Asojirō's outfit is a stylized row, in light blue, of tachibana or mandarin oranges, the personal crest of Arashi Rikan II.


There is another copy of this print in the collection of Cabinet d'arts graphiques des Musées d'art et d'histoire de Genève.