Kyoto was the main center of activity for the production of kappazuri-e (stencil prints, literally, "oil-skin prints"), with a tradition spanning close to a century. Prints of teahouse women and courtesans represented one important aspect of this genre, although they amounted to only a small fraction of the total output—among these were the Gion nerimono-e of Kyoto (see references below). More common were actor prints (yakusha-e: 役者絵).
Once abundant throughout western Japan (Kansai), kappazuri-e were often printed quickly and in small and cheap editions on thin paper, with fugitive pigments (generally more transparent than those used in nishiki-e — "brocade prints" or full-color prints, 浮世絵) that were brushed through stencils after woodblocks were used to stake out the keyblock lines. It was only in Kyoto that kappazuri-e maintained fairly high standards and enjoyed a measure of respect up to the midpoint of the nineteenth century.
The persistent support accorded such a quaint, antiquated technology, as compared with the predominant nishiki method, seems to have been due not only to economics, but also, ironically, to the very primitiveness of the stencil print's appearance. Japanese, in general, value evidence of the artisanal process in their crafts, and kappazuri-e reveal how they are made even more frankly than do nishiki-e. On top of that, Kyoto-ites are known for championing the rustic, imperfect aesthetic of the tea ceremony, and may have actually preferred the quieter, subtler-toned look of stencils to the relatively slick and flamboyant aspect of nishiki-e.
Sadly, almost all stencil prints have perished over time, due to the delicacy of the paper, their generally small size, and the relatively low esteem in which they have been held when compared with nishiki-e (though they, too, were too often neglected). The vast majority of stencil-print designs are now very difficult to find, regardless of condition.
This play appears to be one of the many dramatizations about the intriques over succession within the Date clan (Date-shi: 伊達氏) of Sendai (先代) during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. It was performed in an alternate sekai ("world" or theatrical setting: 世界), set back in time during the Onin civil war under the Ashikaga shogunate of the fifteenth century (Ashikaga thus becomes a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name). It is a classic play, so popular that during the Edo period it had at least one performance nearly every year after its premiere in 1777. The fictionalized central story involved Lord Ashikaga Yorikane's forays into the pleasure quarter and his murder of the courtesan Takao (高尾). This episode is an amplification of an actual incident in which the twenty-one-year-old clan leader Date Tsunamune became the lover of the Yoshiwara courtesan Takao, causing a scandal that led to his downfall. Another story line involves Nikki Danjô (Yorikane's evil nephew), the orchestrator of a conspiracy to overthrow Yorikane. The intrigue failed, however, and Nikki was slain.
This kappazuri-e was produced in Kyoto, although it depicts a scene from an Osaka production of the play.
References: GPS: "The Gion Parade Stencil Prints." Ujlaki, Peter. In: Andon, no. 63, 1999, pp. 5-16. GNP: "Gion Nerimono Prints Revisited: The List." Ujlaki, Peter and Nakade, Akifumi. In: Andon, no. 75, 2003, pp. 5-48