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Archive: Yoshikuni

Arashi Kitsusaburô II as Watônai in Kokusenya kassen, Naka Theater, Osaka
Jukôdô Yoshikuni ga
No artist seal; Printer seal: suri Zakoba
Wataki (Wataya Kihei) and Chû with plum blossom (Ariharadô Kôbun)
(H x W)
Oban nishiki-e
37.5 x 25.3 cm
Moderate color (red faded to pink, green to blue); good condition (some soil, a few small stains, some slight creasing; slightly trimmed; large hole in left center off image, expertly repaired; thin strip of left margin tucked under)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry (Ref #YSK03)


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.

Pub/printer sealsYoshikuni 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.