Imoseyama onna teikin (Mount Imo and Mount Se, an exemplary tale of womanly virtue: 妹背山婦女庭訓) premiered in 1771 as a puppet play. It dramatizes historical events leading to the establishment of one of Japan's great families, the Fujiwara, and in particular the victory of its founder Fujiwara [Nakatomi] no Kamatari (614-669) over Soga no Iruka in 645. In the play, Iruka controls his lords (daimyô) by preventing alliances among them that might threaten his rule.
Two families, headed by Kiyozumi and Sadaka, are loyal to the emperor but are feuding and live on opposite sides of the Yoshino River. Complications arise when their children Koganosuke and Hinadori fall in love. After Iruka orders Koganosuke to serve him and Hinadori to become his mistress, the parents and young lovers see how desperate the situation has become with the tyrant Iruka. As the action takes place simultaneously in each house at opposite sides of the kabuki stage, Koganosuke (with his father's consent) commits ritual suicide (seppuku) to foil Iruka's plans. Not knowing of her lover's death, Hinadori initially considers agreeing to Iruka's lascivious demands as a way of saving Koganosuke from even more harm at the hands of Iruka, but when one of her doll's heads is accidentally knocked off, she takes it as a bad omen and allows Sadaka to behead her. When the parents realize what has happened to the other's child, they arrange a symbolic "marriage" as Sadaka floats Hinadori's head across the river on a horizontal harp (koto) decorated with her festival dolls.
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. It is unknown whether this unusual use of a censor seal on an Osaka print indicates that it was intended for saleboth in Edo and Kamigata (Kyoto-Osaka region), as in Kamigata censorship seals were not cut into the keyblock as a matter of print distribution. Alternatively, there might have been a temporary scare circa 1821-22 during which some publishers added censor seals to their prints. For another Osaka example with a censor seal, see HKK03.
Although another impression exists in the Library of Congress (FP 2 - JPD, no. 1915), it is in poor condition, and we cannot find any others. Thus, this design is very rare, especially in such a good state of preservation.
References: NKE, p. 217