• Three heroes of the Water Margin capture the bandit queen Ichijōsei (<i>108 Heroes of the Theatre Suikoden</i> - <i>Shibai Suikoden Hykuhachinin no uchi</i> - 戯場水滸伝百八人之内) - a tetraptych
Three heroes of the Water Margin capture the bandit queen Ichijōsei (<i>108 Heroes of the Theatre Suikoden</i> - <i>Shibai Suikoden Hykuhachinin no uchi</i> - 戯場水滸伝百八人之内) - a tetraptych
Three heroes of the Water Margin capture the bandit queen Ichijōsei (<i>108 Heroes of the Theatre Suikoden</i> - <i>Shibai Suikoden Hykuhachinin no uchi</i> - 戯場水滸伝百八人之内) - a tetraptych

Shunbaisai Hokuei (春梅斎北英) (artist )

Three heroes of the Water Margin capture the bandit queen Ichijōsei (108 Heroes of the Theatre Suikoden - Shibai Suikoden Hykuhachinin no uchi - 戯場水滸伝百八人之内) - a tetraptych


39 in x 14.25 in (Overall dimensions)

Signed: Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
Publisher: Kinkadō Konishi (Marks 242 - seal 24-088) Artist's seal: Koshiji no ume and Fumoto no ume (trimmed at bottom)
Carvers: Kumazō and Yashichi
Printers: Toyosaburō and Tetsugorō
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Lyon (2nd panel)
Japan Arts Council
Hankyu Culture Foundation - right panel
Hankyu Culture Foundation - 2nd from left
Hankyu Culture Foundation - 2nd from right
Hankyu Culture Foundation - left panel
Adachi Museum of Art
Royal Museums of Art and History, Belgium (via Cultural Japan) - second from left only
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Bibliothèque nationale de France - #38 in an album

This composition is said to be a mitate because it comes from a staging that never took place. Dean J. Schwaab in Osaka Prints on page 172 declared this definitively and even raised questions about the dating of this piece. "Because this is a mitate, or imaginary performance, the dating can only be approximate. However, the presence of both Rikan and Utaemon in the same composition suggest that this should be grouped close to the last collaborative performances given, by these two actors in late 1835. In the ninth and tenth months, Rikan, Utaemon, and Tomijuro did actually perform together, and the performance during the tenth month involved a competition with Nakamura Shikan II. Since the titles do not give the actors' full names, but merely their literary forenames, it is difficult to be sure whether this composition definitely preceded the changes of name that would occur in the final month of the year... but it is likely that it did, since these actors did not perform together afterwards."


The figures from right to left are:

1. Nakamura Shikan II ( 2代目中村 芝翫) as Kumonryū Shishin or Nine Dragons (九紋龍吏進)

2. Nakamura Utaemon III (3代目中村歌右衛門) as Nyūunryū Kō Sonshō or Dragon in the Clouds (入雲龍公孫勝)

3. Keishi (慶子), aka, Nakamura Tomijūrō II (2代目中村富十郎), as Ko Sanjō Ichijōsei (扈三娘一丈青) - the female figure

4. Arashi Rikan II (2代目嵐璃寛) as Rōrihakuchō Chōjun or White Stripe in the Waves (浪裡白跳張順)


Cory Sherman North wrote: "This acclaimed masterpiece of Osaka printmaking with its detailed landscape setting provides a grand panoramic of the kabuki play, Shibai Suikoden Hyakuhachinin no uchi (108 Heroes of the Theatre Suikoden), performed in the 11th month of 1835 in Osaka. The four-panel composition features the actor Arashi Rikan II (1788-1837) as the tattooed Rorihakuto Chōjun on left, and Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838) second from the right as Ju-unryū Kosonsho. The hero, Kumonryū Shishi, on the right is likely the actor Nakamura Shikan II (1798-1852), Utaemon III’s protégé who later became Utaemon IV. Tales of the Chinese legendary “Suikoden” (water margin) outlaws and their adventures were easily adapted to exciting dramas for the kabuki stage. In this color woodcut set Hokuei captured a particular performance, but other print artists, such as Kuniyoshi, simply illustrated the well-known stories from their own imaginations.

The artist Hokuei was a pupil of Hokushū (also in this exhibition), whose portrait style greatly influenced Hokuei’s in characteristic bulging eyes and large ovoid jaws. Hokuei was a pioneer in applying luxury surimono effects to actor portrait woodcuts, such as precious metals and deep embossing. This deluxe set, which is rarely found complete, required no less than three master carvers and two printers to accomplish. Hokuei is known to have designed more than 250 compositions including some recognized as the most technically complex ukiyo-e prints ever produced."


Past all belief

Jan van Doesburg wrote in Andon 36 from March, 1991:

"[Hokuei's] merits are in the field of integrating the eminent technical skill into the theatrical prints of the I 830s, as is convincingly illustrated in his famous tetraptych Shibai Suikoden Hyakuhachinin no uchi, published in the late autumn of 1835. The four sheets were printed by Toyosaburō and Tetsugorō, while the blocks were carved by Kumazō and Yashichi. Both printing and carving has been done with a skill and precision that is past all belief. When you get the opportunity you really should have a close look at impressions of prints like these, since even with the best of our present-day, advanced printing techniques it is impossible to reproduce the aura of the original impressions' overwhelming textures."


Who was the real Rōrihakuchō Chōjun, the fictional character?

In 'Kuniyoshi's tattooed heroes of the Suikoden. Righteous rebels from China in Japanese prints' by Inge Klompmakers in Andon 87, December, 2009, on page 88 it says in a translation of the text on a print of Rōrihakuchō Chōjun:

He is exceptionally brave, has a body white as snow and is easily capable of floating in the river for forty or fifty ri (one ri is about 3.8 km). Furthermore, he is able to stay under water for seven days and nights without difficulty'.'

Klompmakers added that 'His nickname was White Leaper in the Waves'.

The far left panel of this composition could, in isolation, be counted not only among the finest Japanese prints ever created, but among the finest works of art in Japan or anywhere else. The delicacy of the carving combined with the elegance of the design screams 'Masterpiece'. However, it is instructive to look at this print more closely with an emphasis not only of the tattooed body, but also its surroundings.

If you look at the jpeg of the Kuniyoshi that we have added to this page you will see all kinds of similarities between the two images. Kuniyoshi's print dates from between 1827-1830 and the Hokuei from 1835. At first they might not seem to be terribly similar, but look more closely at the tattoos. In both the main features are a fire-breathing snake, the needles of a pine tree and red ivy leaves. While Kuniyoshi's figure of Rōrihakuchō Chōjun has a waterfall and Hokuei's does not, in the latter our hero is wringing out a wet cloth that gives and approximation of a waterfall and besides there is a real one in the background cascading out of a rocky mountainside. Clearly Hokuei knew Kuniyoshi's print intimately.

Some background material on Kyūmonryū Shishin, the man on the far right

Inge Klompmakers wrote on page 66:

Kyūmonryū Shishin, nicknamed'The Nine-dragonned', was the son of a wealthy landowner. Unfortunately, after his father's death he spent more time on military affairs than on cultivating the lands he had inherited. One day he was challenged to a fight by Chōkanko Chintatsu, the leader of three robbers. They struggled together for a long time, but in the end the 'Nine-dragonned' was victorious and Chintatsu was taken into custody. When the other gang members came to plea for his release, Shishin was moved by their loyalty. The five became lifelong friends and joined the Suikoden.

You might have noticed that this fellow's name is sometimes spelled 'Kumonryū Shishin' and at other times as 'Kyūmonryū Shishin'. Both are acceptable as translations of the kanji characters used for his name.


Illustrated in 1) Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints), vol. 2, Osaka, 1998, No. 341.

2) In color in Masterpieces of Japanese Prints: The European Collections - Ukiyo-e from the Victoria and Albert Museum II, Kodansha International, 1991, pp. 130-31.

In color in 3) in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 9, pp. 124-125.

4) In a two page color fold-out in The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints by Roger Keyes and Keiko Mizushima, Philadelphia Museum of Art, text on page 146, 1973.

5) In color in Ukiyo-e to Shin hanga: The Art of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Mallard Press, 1990, p. 182.

6) In color in Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collection 5: Victoria and Albert Museum II, Kodansha, 1989, #153.

7) In a large color reproduction over two page in Japanese Prints by Catherine David, 2010, Éditions Place des Victoires, p. 294-95.

8) In a color reproduction in Ukiyo-e to Horimono: the history and art of Japanese Prints and Tattooing by Jan van Doesburg, 2013, fig. 028, pp. 120-121.


There is another copy of this composition in the Adachi Ward Museum (足立 区立郷土博物館所蔵), Tokyo.

Kyōto-Osaka prints (kamigata-e - 上方絵) (genre)
warrior prints (musha-e - 武者絵) (genre)
Kinkadō Konishi (金花堂小西) (publisher)
actor prints (yakusha-e - 役者絵) (genre)
Suikoden (水滸傳) (genre)
Arashi Rikan II (二代目嵐璃寛: 9/1828 - 6/1837) (actor)
Tattoo (genre)
Nakamura Tomijūrō II (二代目中村富十郎: 1/1833 to 2/1855) (actor)
landscape prints (fūkeiga 風景画) (genre)
Nakamura Shikan II (二代目中村芝翫: 11/1825 - 12/1835) (actor)
Nakamura Utaemon III 三代目中村歌右衛門 (actor)
mitate-e (見立て絵) (genre)