The play Kokusenya kassen, written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724), has long been considered a bunraku masterpiece. First staged
in 1715, it remains unsurpassed as the most successful play in the history of the puppet theater.
The hero Watônai Sankan, a fisherman by trade, was also the son of a former Ming minister who had been exiled to Japan. Trained in military
strategy, Watônai travels to China to aid a princess named Sendan, younger sister of the Chinese emperor murdered by the Tartars, where he fights
to fulfill his father's promise to restore the Ming dynasty and place Sendan on the throne.
Yoshikuni apparently found inspiration for his design in a series by the Edo master Utagawa Kunisada, issued circa 1823 in nearly identical format
and titled Tôsei oshi-e hagoita atari kyôgen no uchi ("A series of great performances: Present-day color patchwork-picture
battledores"). Kunisada had journeyed from Edo to Osaka in late 1820 and left around the following autumn. His visit caused quite a stir in the
Osaka printmaking world as he engaged many pupils and spread the influence of his Utagawa studio.
Yoshikuni depicted Kitsusaburô II within the frame of a battledore (hagoita), echoing a popular New Year's practice when textile
portraits or printed pictures were mounted to hagoita and sold as souvenirs at temples and shrines. Watônai holds a large tablet inscribed,
in part, with the characters for jingû (a reference to the sacred Shintô shrine at Ise). In a famous scene in which Watônai
subdues a ferocious tiger, he is aided by his mother who gives him a sacred charm from the Ise Shrine.
Ariharadô Kôbun's chû and plum blossom seals were cut into the keyblock, whereas the small oval Wataki publisher
seal was hand-stamped to the right. Also hand-stamped was the rectangular printer seal reading suri Zakoba at the lower left.
References: KNZ, no. 302; OK, no. 39; KNP-6, p. 115; IKB-I, no. 2-390; NKE, p. 347.