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Artist: Shunkōsai Hokushū (春好斎北洲)

Print: Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Kanda Yogorō (神田与五郎) on the right; Nakamura Sankō I (中村三光) as keisei (courtesan) Kashiwagi (けいせい柏木) in the middle; Ichikawa Ebijūrō I (市川鰕十郎) as Teraoka Heiemon (寺岡平右衛門) on the left in the play Oishizuri sakura tanzaku

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Dates: 1822,created
Dimensions: 10.25 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Shunkōsai Hokushū ga
春好斎北洲画
Publishers: Yamaichi on l. (Marks U438 seal 02-036) and
Honya Seishichi (M. 123 - 25-527), Toshikuraya Shinbei on r. and middle (M. 539 - 25-553)
Izutsuya Denbei also on middle

Related links: Philadelphia Museum of Art - left-hand panel; Philadelphia Museum of Art - right-hand panel; Freer/Sackler Galleries - right panel only; Lyon Collection - another copy of the right-hand panel only;Hankyu Culture Foundation - right panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation - center panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation - left panel;

Physical description:

This triptych commemorates a performance at the Naka Theater in Osaka in 1822.

This play was a big hit (ōatari) and proved to be a popular subject for a number of artists. Hokushū produced the design above (plus at least two more compositions), while others depicting scenes from this production included his pupils Shunchō and Shunsho (later Shun'yō), as well as the artist Yoshikuni and his pupils Mitsukuni and Hikokuni. Ōishizuri sakura tanzaku (大西摺桜花短冊) may be translated as "Oishi's stone rubbing, a poem card, and cherry blossoms." Although the plot remains unknown, some role names (such as the virtuous wives Oishi and Osono, or Okaru's brother, Teraoka Heiemon) inscribed on prints produced by these artists suggest that the plot was adapted from the most famous of all revenge plays, Kanadehon Chūshingura (Copybook of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers).

Breaking with convention, Hokushū designed each sheet with a different bold background pattern. The far left grid represents a repeat pattern of the three-rice measures (mimasu) for the crest of the Ichikawa acting family. The middle and left sheets also have an encircled character at the bottom edge for middle (chū) and left (sa), respectively, denoting the position of the sheets in the triptych.

The poems (kyōka) all claim that not only was the production a success, but each actor was heralded for his performance.

The first verse (on the right sheet) is signed "Shiyū" and reads, Oiri o / totta to tachimi/ shikan yori / hoka e hiiki wa / metta ni yaran zo ("A smashing success! / Only standing room, / nobody but Shikan, / never support / another!").* Shikan was Utaemon's poetry name (haimyō). The character for "Yo" is written on Yogorō's blue robe.

The middle verse, written by the artist Umekuni, reads, Ryōha no / tachi-e no ume ni / uguisu no / sono sankō o / hikanu no wa nashi ("On either side / a plum branch, / in the middle a song thrush, / who would not be / charmed?").* Sankō was the haimyō of the onnagata Nakamura Tomijūrō II.

The left poem, signed Tantorō, reads, Hyōban o / totta to date no / tatemono wa / ge ni senryō no / shinshō zo yoshi ("Great reviews! / this dandy star, / truly he is / Shinshō worth / a thousand coins").* The coins refer to the high salary paid only to superstar actors such as Shinshō (the haimyō for Ebijūrō).

Note: Another (partly faded) impression of this design is featured in the 2005-06 exhibition and catalogue Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage, 1780-1830 at the British Museum, Osaka Museum of History, and Waseda University Theatre Museum.

[This information was taken directly from OsakaPrints.com.]

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More information and alternate translations of the poems -

The two outer prints show "Both actors... depicted as torite (literally, 'take hands') or kabuki policemen, brandishing jitte truncheons (known as gimbō, or 'silver sticks,' in theater parlance) and wearing yoten, an outer garment with slit hems and wide sleeves.... The mustard-yellow pattern in the background of each print is based on the crest of the respective actor.... The pattern is rendered in reserve, resembling a stone-rubbing (ishizuri) technique - clearly a reference to the title of the play, 'Ōishi,' in the title of the play, Ōishizuri sakura tanzaku (Ōishi's stone-rubbing of a poem card on cherry blossoms) recalls the name fo one fo the protagonists in the vendetta play Chūshingura and indicates that this play borrowed plot elements from the more famous one.

The hokku on the print at the right is signed Shiyū, whose actual identity is yet to be uncovered, as is the case with the poet who styled himself Nitsura on the left print.... The poet olayfully weaves in phrases associated with torite roles while praising Shikan, an alternate name used by Nakamura Utaemon III:

ōiri o
totta to tachimi
Shika yori
hoka e hiiki wa
metta ni yaran zo

Playing to packed houses,
Shikan's dramatic stances
are just so "arresting"
that fans really feel
"there's nowhere to escape!"

The poem on the left print, signed Nitsura, suggests that Ebijūrō's (here Shinshō, his pen name) sword performances are worthy of a 'thousand ryō actor' (senryō yukusha, an actor who receives an extravagant salary:

hyōban o
totta to tate no
tatemono wa
ge ni senryō no
shinshō zokashi

He receives rave reviews
for taking lead roles
in sword-fight scenes -
surely done well enough
to deserve a thousand ryō.

These translations were provided by John T. Carpenter. Quotes are from Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints in the Anne van Biema Collection, p. 148.

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Illustrated:

1) There is a color illustration of this triptych in Osaka Prints by Dean J. Schwaab on page 86, but the prints are shown in the wrong order.

2) The two outer prints appear in Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints in the Anne van Biema Collection, pp. 148-149.

3) In Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints), vol. 1, Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka 1997, no. 122.

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There is another copy of the center panel in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland.