Chûko homare no futamichi (Honor, loyalty, and filial piety at the crossroads: 忠孝誉二街) premiered in 1792. The libretto appears not to have survived, but the drama was one of many adauchi mono (revenge plays: 仇打ち物), also called katakiuchi-mono (revenge-killing plays: 敵討物). Adauchi mono were admired for their dramatic presentation of vendettas — considered a prime example of absolute loyalty to the samurai code of honor. A subgenre of kabuki and puppet plays, these dramas epitomized the portrayal of evil on the theatrical stage, reflecting a growing fascination in Kasei-period (1804-1830) popular culture with unfettered cruelty and cynicism. Actually, tales of samurai vendettas had been in vogue since the Genroku period (1688-1704) in books and plays, as readers and audiences followed aggrieved heroes or their families seeking revenge against villains who had slain the innocent. In some of these tales, a prototypical role appeared, the akuba (evil woman: 悪婆), since 1879 also called dokufu (poison woman: 毒婦). Chûko homare no futamichi might have influenced the play Ehon Gappô ga tsuji ("An illustrated picture-book of the crossroads of Gappô": 絵本合法衢) — premiering in 1810 at the Ichimura-za, Edo — an adauchi-mono masterpiece by the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV.
Rikan II appears to stand before the Enmadô, a temple dedicated to Enma Daiô, one of the twelve Deva Kings and the great regent of Buddhist Hell (also Emma-o, or the Japanese Buddhist god of the underworld, from the Sanskrit "Yama"). As the foremost judge of the dead, Enma catalogs the sins of those sentenced to purgatory and determines the degree of punishment according to Buddha’s Law. Seemingly in response to Enma's potential wrath, Rikan's robe is inscribed with the invocation Namu Amida Butsu (Praise be to Namida Butsu: 南無阿弥陀佛), a prayer offered to the Amida (or Amitabha) Buddha, ruler of the Pure Land and savior of human souls and spirits of the dead. The practice of nenbutsu (Prayer to Buddha: 念佛) began in the ninth century as a simple repetition of "Namu Amida Butsu" through which salvation could be gained in the afterlife. For another portrayal with Rikan II wearing a similar robe, see HKE66.
There exists a rare aizuri-e (blue picture: 藍摺絵) edition (sumi plus shades of blue only) known so far in only one example in the Hendrick Lühl collection, Germany. Our impression of the nishiki-e edition offers fine color and condition.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 300