Kagamiyama kokyô no nishiki-e (A brocade picture of the birthplace at Mirror Mountain: 鏡山舊錦絵) is one of several Kagamiyama mono (Kaga Mountain plays: 鏡山物) dramatizing eighteenth-century rivalries within the Maeda clan in Kaga. Many were adaptations of a ningyô jôruri (puppet play: 人形淨瑠璃) called Kagamiyama kokyô no nishiki-e (1782, Edo), from which the play illustrated here took its title. A slightly earlier Kyoto production was Kagamiyama kuruwa no kikigaku (A picture of the pleasure quarter at Mirror Mountain: 鏡山廓の写本) premiering in 1780. One of the better known Edo adaptations was Keisei Soga kuruwa Kagamiyama (Mirror Mountain and courtesan's Soga in the pleasure quarters: けいせい曽我廓鏡山), a play about two courtesans in the Yoshiwara, Edo.
The main plot line was based on a real-life incident from 1724 when the maidservant Osatsu avenged the death of her mistress, Omichi, who had been driven to suicide after being struck by a sandal — considered a terrible insult — by a woman named Sawano. In typical fashion, theatrical adaptations changed the names of the protagonists. After the lady-in-waiting Onoe uncovers a plot to seize power from the shogun by an court woman named Iwafuji, the latter insults Onoe by striking her with a sandal. Onoe commits suicide, but only after revealing the conspiracy to her maid, Ohatsu. The dutiful maid foils the intrigue and kills Iwafuji with a sword, then symbolically beats the corpse with Onoe’s blood-stained sandal.
All three female protagonists are depicted against a striking yellow background. The traitorous Iwafuji struggles with Ohatsu in "stick fighting" (bôjutsu, lit., "staff technique": 棒術) while the lady-in-waiting Onoe looks on.
The lack of alignment between the right and center sheets in this composition is very common in ukiyo-e polyptychs. Depending on the remaining margins, sheets often do not join up precisely. Sometimes they are trimmed to reduce the appearance of misalignment, but our example is more complete, especially along the left side of the right sheet. Simply overlaying the center sheet over the unprinted edge of the right sheet will reduce the mislaignment significantly.
The colors in this example are beautifully preserved; the expensive robes worn by Onoe are intricately patterned and chromatically complex. The printing is worthy of the elegance on display, acknowledged by the printer's seal Ka hori (printed by Ka: カホリ) at the bottom of the center sheet.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 282