• Masaoka (正岡) and the spectre of Nikki Danjo from the series <i>Lives of Wise and Heroic Women</i> (<i>Kenjo reppu den</i> - 賢女烈婦傳)
Masaoka (正岡) and the spectre of Nikki Danjo from the series <i>Lives of Wise and Heroic Women</i> (<i>Kenjo reppu den</i> - 賢女烈婦傳)
Masaoka (正岡) and the spectre of Nikki Danjo from the series <i>Lives of Wise and Heroic Women</i> (<i>Kenjo reppu den</i> - 賢女烈婦傳)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) (artist 11/15/1797 – 03/05/1861)

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


ca 1843
9.75 in x 14 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese color woodblock print.
Signed: Chōōrō Kuniyoshi ga
Publisher: Ibaya Senzaburō
(Marks 127 - seal 11-001)
Censor's seal: (Probably) Yoshimura
British Museum
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
National Museums Scotland
Royal Ontario Museum
National Museum of Japanese History (via Ritsumeikan University)
Tokyo Metropolitan Library
Spencer Museum of Art Masaoka protecting Tsugichiyo-maru (or Tsuruchiyo or Tsurukiyo or...) from the apparition of an old warrior monk.

Yorikane is forced to step down as the leader of his clan because of his dissolute life. As a result his young son, Tsurukiyo, is made the head of his clan. Masaoka, the wet-nurse, is charged with protecting the boy, because there are other factions trying to kill him to usurp his position. Masaoka has a young son, Senmatsu, of about the same age, who is raised to be Tsurukiyo's food taster, just in case someone tries to poison the young lord.

The arch-villains are Nikko Danjo and his sister, Lady Yashio, who is often played by a male actor who never plays female roles, thus giving Yashio a rougher, cruder demeanor. Lady Yashio prepares some poisoned cakes to be given to Tsurukiyo, but when Senmatsu sees them he runs forward to eat one as he is expected to do. At this point, Yashio stabs Senmatsu to death saying he deserved to be murdered for his rudeness, but, in point of fact, to cover the fact that the boy had been poisoned.

In this print, Masaoka is protecting Yorikane's son from the spectre of a very menacing Nikki Danjo.


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.


Scholten Japanese Art describes Masaoka this way:

"Masaoka, the heroic nurse of the infant prince from the play Meiboku Sendai hagi (The Disputed Succession). Masaoka is largely responsible for foiling an attempted coup, led by the wicked Nikki Danjo. She allows her own son Senmatsu to eat poisoned cakes that Lady Yoshio [sic] (one of the coup plotters) had meant for the prince, and subsequently watches as Lady Yashio murders the child before the poison could take effect and reveal her treachery. Masaoka exacts revenge on the plotters, killing Lady Yashio and stealing a scroll which lists everyone involved in the coup."


There are other copies of this print in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden and in the Canterbury Museum, Christ Church, New Zealand.


The text reads:

"足利家の乳母人 若君継千代丸にかしづき 能姦臣の毒手を防ぎ 心を千松島のちゞに砕き 慮を名取川の底よりもふかくす 忠魂義胆はますらをにまされり"

Loosely translated and most probably somewhat inaccurately: "A wet nurse of the Ashikaga family, the young prince, Tsukichiyomaru, defends against the poisonous hand of a noble minister, breaks his heart in the depths of Senmatsu Island, and makes his thoughts deeper than the bottom of the Natori River."


Illustrated in black and white in Japanese Ghosts and Demons, edited by Stephen Addiss, fig. 19, p.51, 1985.
warrior prints (musha-e - 武者絵) (genre)
Ibaya Senzaburō (伊場屋仙三郎) (publisher)
Yūrei-zu (幽霊図 - ghosts demons monsters and spirits) (genre)
boshi-e (母子絵) (genre)
Meiboku Sendai Hagi (伽藍先代萩) (author)