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Archive: Hikokuni (彦國)

Nakamura Utaemon III as Ishikawa Goemon in Kinmon gosan no kiri, Naka no Shibai, Osaka
Hikokuni ga
No artist seals
Toshin (Toshikuraya Shinbei)
(H x W)
Oban nishiki-e
37.9 x 26.6 cm
Excellent color, unbacked; album fold along left edge, light black-ink printer's smudges near Utaemon's left shoulder and hip, brown smudge lower right corner, several very small thinned areas
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The historical Ishikawa Goemon was a notorious masterless samurai (rônin, floating man: 浪人) during the reign of the shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. At age sixteen he murdered three men while attempting to steal from his master. After his escape, he lived as a bandit for the next two decades until, in 1594, he was finally captured during a failed attempt to kill Hideyoshi. Goemon met a grisly end by being boiled in oil.

The theatrical Goemon was transformed into a hero — fearless, elusive, and endowed with magical powers. The first staging of Goemon's exploits occurred in the 1680s. Kinmon gosan no kiri premiered in 1788 as a five-act drama (it was renamed to Sanmon gosan no kiri for its premiere in Edo in 1800). It recounts Goemon's efforts to take revenge against Mashiba Hisayoshi (a pseudonym for the historical Hideyoshi), the enemy of both his adoptive and natural fathers. The gosan ("five, three [of paulownia]") in the title refers to the five flowers on the three stems above the paulownia (kiri: 桐) leaves, Hideyoshi's particular version of the kiri crest (visible on each sleeve), for centuries symbolic of imperial and shogunal power.


Hikokuni was probably a student of Yoshikuni and a member of his master's Jukôdô artist and poetry circle. The publisher Toshin was apparently closely allied with the Jukôdô.

This design includes a censor seal (kiwame, approved: 極), near the signature, indicating that it was intended for sale in Edo as well as in Kamigata (Kyoto-Osaka region, where censorship seals were not cut into the keyblock as a matter of print distribution).

Provenance: This impression is from the Haber Collection, illustrated in Schwaab (Osaka Prints, 1989, no. 42). Prints from this collection are admired for their fine color, as here, with the pink of the sky and purple in the robe very well preserved.

References: OSP, no. 48; IKB-I, no. 2-378; KNP-6, p. 86; NKE, p. 551