Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan (Tôkaidô ghost story at Yotsuya: 東海道四谷怪談) is masterful kaidan mono (ghost play: 怪談物) written in 1825 by Tsuruya Nanboku IV (鶴屋南北 1755-1829). The main theme in this most popular of all kabuki ghost plays involves Tamiya Iemon (民谷伊右衛門), Oiwa's husband and a down-on-his-luck rônin reduced to making oil-paper umbrellas. Iemon despairs over his ill fortune, made worse by Oiwa (お岩), who is struggling in her postpartum convalescence and nursing a newborn child. He finds temptation in a neighbor's young daughter named Itô Oume (伊藤お梅), and is persuaded by her grandfather Itô Kihei (伊藤喜兵衛) to give Oiwa a "medicinal potion" — actually a poison — meant to disfigure her so that Iemon will divorce her. Oiwa drinks the potion and her face takes on a monstrous countenance. In Act II, having seen her disfigured face in a mirror, she tries to push past a former brothel owner and now Iemon's servant Takuetsu (宅悦), but accidentally cuts her throat with a sword, dying as she curses Iemon. When Kobotoke Kohei (小佛小平), Iemon's former servant, steals the traditional medicine of the Tamiya family, Iemon catches Kohei and murders him. Then he has his men nail the bodies of Oiwa and Kohei to the opposite sides of a door and throw them into a river, attempting to link Oiwa and Kohei as lovers. At the close of Act 2, on the night of his wedding, Iemon kills Oume and Itô Kihei when he is driven to distraction by devious tricks played by the ghosts of Oiwa and Kohei. Oiwa's ghost continues to haunt Iemon relentlessly. In Act V, she tracks him down in a hermitage at Hebiyama (Snake Mountain: 蛇山) where he is taking refuge. He is finally slain by a rônin (a "wave man" or " floating man," i.e., masterless samurai: 浪人) named Satô Yomoshichi (佐藤与茂七) along with the sister of a servant he has murdered. Yomoshichi was once a vassal of Lord Enya Hangan (塩谷判官), a samurai who was forced to commit seppuku in the great katakiuchi-mono (revenge-killing play: 敵討物 or adauchi-mono: 仇打ち物) titled Kanadehon chûshingura (Copybook of the treasury of loyal retainers: 假名手本忠臣蔵), from which Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan was adapted. Yomoshichi, who in Chûshingura is betrothed to Oiwa's sister, the prostitute Osode (おそで), a part-time pleasure woman, joined the rônin vendetta against Kô no Moronao, the nemesis of their deceased master Hangan.
Enjaku has depicted one of kabuki's most emotional scenes. The spirit of Oiwa (note the kitsunebi 狐火 or spirit fire at the top right), dressed in funereal robes of gray and blue, holds her newborn child while poised against a black background. Her face, disfigured by the potion given to her by Iemon, is sadly on view here.
In this instance, the blue color on the forehead, mouth, and hand signify a ghost. This is an early impression, with strong woodgrain in the lower gray area.
Enjaku's (猿雀 active 1856-66) prints survive in very small numbers (some are known in only a single impression) and are difficult to obtain. Although nothing is known about his biography, he is arguably the most important transitional artist entering the last phase of printmaking in Osaka. He specialized in deluxe editions of ôkubi-e (large-head pictures: 大首絵) in chûban format.
For more about this artist, see Enjaku Biography.
Very few impressions of this ghost design are known. See John Fiorillo and Hendrick Lühl, "Enjaku," Andon special monograph, 2006, no. 5.02, p. 108.