Utagawa Toyokuni I (初代歌川豊国) (artist 1769 – 02/24/1825)

Sawamura Sōjūrō III (沢村宗十郎) as Satsuma Gengobei (薩摩源五兵衛) in the play Godairiki koi no fūjime (五大力恋緘) - 'The Five Great Powers that Secure Love'


ca 1801
9.75 in x 14.5 in (Overall dimensions)

Signature: Toyokuni ga (豊国画)
Publisher: Uemura Yohei (Marks 564 - seal 25-297)
Tokyo National Museum
Harvard Art Museums
Bibliotheque Nationale de France
Cleveland Museum of Art
Lyon Collection - an 1830 Shigeharu diptych featuring Katsuma Gengobei and Kikuno
Lyon Collection - an 1837 Sadamasu print of Katsuma Gengobei
Lyon Collection - an 1868 Kunichika print of Katsuma Gengobei

The Godairiki of the title of the play represents the 'Five Wisdom Kings' or the 'Five Great Power Bodhisattvas'. Julia Meech wrote: "...each of the Godairiki is capable of transforming himself into a benevolent and a ferocious form; the benevolent forms are those of the five Bodhisattvas, such as Monju (Mañjuśrī), and the ferocious forms are the five Myō-ō."


According to the Herwigs in their Heroes of the Kabuki Stage "The text above, reserved in white, presents lines from the play written in calligraphy by the wife of Sōjūrō."

In the notes to the Kodansha volume on the Japanese print collection in the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin it says: "This portrayal of Satsuma Gengobei, the main character of the play Godairiki Koi no Füjime (The Lovers' Vow to Acala [God of Fire]), is assumed to have been produced in memory of Sawamura Sōjūrō III, who died at the age of forty-nine on 27th March, 1801 (Kyōwa 1). A fiery disposition seems to lurk behind the gentle, handsome features."

Toyokuni I came to prominence in Edo (now Tokyo) printmaking in the 1790's with his actor portraits. Influenced by the innovative work of his contemporaries Utamaro and Sharaku (active 1794-95) who pioneered the bust-length portrait (ōkubi-e), he designed powerful full-figure and half-length actor prints and established his own style that led the Utagawa school of artists well into the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Toyokuni also initiated the practice of depicting actors in their private lives, behind the scenes which held enormous appeal for Edo kabuki fans. Capitalizing on his own success, by 1817 the artist authored and illustrated a how-to book on his methods, Yakusha nigao haya geiko (Quick Instruction in the Drawing of Actor Likenesses).

The actor portrayed in this striking ōkubi-e is Sawamura Sōjurō III (1753-1801) in one of his best roles, the master-less samurai Satsuma Gengobei in the play Godairiki koi no fūjime (Five Great Strengths that Seal Love). This play full of intrigue, disguise, and deception, as well as love and revenge, is based on the infamous “five murders at Sonezaki” incident that occurred in 1737 and debuted as a New Year’s performance at Edo’s Miyako Theater in 1795. The color woodcut was first released soon afterward, but then re-issued upon the actor’s death. This second version added calligraphy by Sōjurō III’s widow quoting lines from the play that allude to the ephemeral nature of the kabuki world.

There are other copies of this print in major museum collections. One is in the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin and another is in the Musée Guimet in Paris.


The play Godairiki koi no fūjime was written by Gohei Namiki (1747-1808: 並木五瓶).

Namiki was a "...playwright of Kabuki kyōgen (farces) who left more than 100 plays written during a 40-year career. He studied with the dramatist Namiki Shōzō and by 1775 was chief playwright for the Hayakumo-za Kabuki theatre, where he introduced the system of naming each play with its own title and contributed to the improvement of the status of dramatists. He also helped establish a new genre, sewamono (“plays about contemporary life”), in the Kabuki repertoire, which had dealt primarily with historical themes. In 1794 he moved to Kyōto to work for the Miyako Theatre. While there he started the custom of presenting two separate plays, a historical drama and a domestic drama, on the same program rather than one long play.

Namiki’s works are valued for their logical plot structure and emphasis on rational rather than emotional content. Some of his most famous plays are Godairiki koi no fūjime, Kanjin kammon tekuda no hajimari, Sanmon gosan no kiri, Natane no gokū, Satokotoba awasekagami, Sumida no haru qeisha katagi, and Tomigaoka koi no yamabiraki.

Quoted from the Encyclopedia Britannica online.



1) in a small black and white reproduction in the Illustrated Catalogues of Tokyo National Museum: Ukiyo-e Prints (3), #2545.

2) in a full-page color reproduction in Japanese and Chinese Prints: The Walter Amstutz Collection by Jack Hillier, Sotheby’s, 1991, pp. 286-287.

3) in black and white in Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collections: Musée Guimet, Paris II, #33, p. 159.

4) in color in Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collections: Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin, Kodansha, 1988, #119.


Two of the greatest prints in the Lyon Collection are both of large head portraits of Sawamura Sōjūrō III, both are by Toyokuni I. The other one, number 649, is of Sōjūrō as possibly Konomura Ōinosuke from ca. 1795.


There is a small set of Hokusai surimono in the Bibliothèque nationale de France entitled 'Vows to the Five Bodhisattvas' (Godairiki). This series "...implies associations with stories about faithful women. Godairiki was the word women of those days used to inscribe on shamisen, hairpins, and other personal items as a vow of fidelity to their lovers."

This is quoted from the English language supplement to Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collections 8: Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, p. 8.
actor prints (yakusha-e - 役者絵) (genre)
Sawamura Sōjūrō III (三代目沢村宗十郎: 11/1771-3/1801) (actor)
Uemura Yohei (上村与兵衛) (publisher)
ōkubi-e (大首絵) (genre)
Godairiki koi no fūjime (五大力恋緘) (kabuki)
Namiki Gohei (初代並木五瓶) (kabuki)