Enjaku's (猿雀 active 1856-66) woodblock print designs 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 just before the start of the Meiji period. He specialized in deluxe editions of ôkubi-e (large-head pictures: 大首絵) in chûban format. A remarkable 90 percent of his 152 known designs were first issued as deluxe editions.* Many were subsequently also published in namizuri-e ("ordinary printings": 並摺絵).
Tsuta momiji utsunoya tôge (Maple and ivy at Utsunoya Pass: 蔦紅葉宇都谷峠) was written for the actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV (市川幸團治 1812-66) by Kawatake Mokuami (河竹黙阿弥 birth name Yoshimura Yoshisaburô; 吉村芳三郎 1816-93), premiering in 9/1856 at the Ichimura-za, Edo. The plot, in five acts with 12 scenes, recounts the murder of Bunya, a blind masseur who has 100 ryô (gold coins) from the sale of his sister to a Yoshiwara brothel. As it happens, Itamiya Jûbei, a former samurai, needs exactly the same amount of money to give to his former lord. At an inn, Bunya and the merchant happen to stay together in the same room. Jûbei catches a thief named Daiba no Nisa (提婆の仁三 last part might also be read as Jinzô 仁三) who has been stalking Bunya for several days wanting to steal Bunya's money. Hearing from Nisa that the masseur is carrying such a great sum of money, Jûbei at first hopes that Bunya will lend it to him. Winning Bunya's confidence, Jûbei offers to accompany the masseur as far as the dangerous Utsunoya Pass. They travel together and when approaching the pass, Jûbei begs to borrow the money. Bunya, however, says he cannot because his sister sold herself to a brothel in order to raise the money, which will enable him to buy his official license as a masseur so he might become the leader of a group of Kyoto masseurs. Jûbei ends up killing Bunya and makes off with the money after having hidden Bunya's body. The murder was observed by the thief Nisa. After Bunya's death, Jûbei returns to the tavern (the Itamiya), which he owns, but is confronted by Nisa, who theatens to reveal the truth about the murder. He also hears that his wife, Shizu, is ill, has been haunted by Bunya's ghost. Jûbei vows to save enough money to repay Bunya's family, but Nisa demands the money. Later, in the Suzugamori woods, Jûbei kills Nisa so that he might live only until his debt to Bunya's family is repaid. After that, he plans to give himself up for his crime and face death at their hands. The play features the hayagawari (quick-change: 早替り) with the same actor performing as Bunya and Nisa — roles of contrasting moral dispositions requiring radical transformations into very different characters on stage.
Enjaku collaborated with with Utagawa Kunikazu (歌川國員 active c. 1849-67) and Ichiyôsai Yoshitaki (一養齋芳瀧 1841-99) on this series. This deluxe-edition set was issued for various performances circa 1857-65, plus a few mitate-e ('view and compare', or analogue pictures: 見立絵) for imaginary productions with casts of actors who never actually performed together at the time. Each design included seven different ideograms or kanji that were pronounced the same, either matching the pronunciation of the first character of the actor's role name or suggesting an alternate association with the role or play. In the depiction of Daiba no Jinzô offered here, the kanji inscribed on the scroll are all pronounced "ni." Every design in the series includes a hand scroll at the top with the actor's name (if included), play title, the series title, and seven ideographs. Enjaku's signatures are placed in either the scroll or the background behind the actors.
It is often difficult to determine whether Edo artists had any direct effect on particular publishing projects in Osaka, but there was a similarly designed, slightly earlier set by Kunisada (with both half-length and full-length figures, as well as single and multi-figure examples) titled Kiyogaki nanatsu iroha (Clean copies of seven syllables of the Japanese alphabet: 清書七伊呂波) issued between 6/1856 and 9/1856 that might have been familiar to the publisher Ishiwa or his three collaborating artists. Kunisada's designs are strikingly similar in some respects (although with different actors, roles, and plays, of course).
This impression was finely printed in a deluxe edition and its colors are excellent. As mentioned in the "Condition" section above, the eyes were inpainted with a glossy mix of brown pigment. (This is original to the deluxe-edition printing and not a defect; see image at right.) Given the rarity of prints by Enjaku, especially those with performances at shrine theaters (as with our print), we find this to be a compelling and worthy design for acquisition.
* Only three previously unrecorded designs have been identified since the publication of the monograph on Enjaku by John Fiorillo and Hendrick Lühl, "Enjaku: An Osaka Master of the Deluxe Print during the Transition to the Final Period." Andon special issue, 135pp, Society for Japanese Arts, (Leiden), 2006.
References: EOM, no. 1.18 (, p. 85); NKE, pp. 671-72.