The Tenpô Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku: 天保改革) were edicts that in 7/1842 banned actor prints in Osaka, virtually halting print production in Kamigata for five years. A gradual weakening of enforcement ensued despite reiterations in 1844 and 1845 by the government of its intention to continue the reforms, and by 1847 relatively normal print production had resumed, though printmakers played their cards close to their vests for nearly a decade afterwards.
One sign of this caution was the omission of actor names, although patrons of yakusha-e hardly needed the inscribed names, as the physiognomies were easily identifiable, and they would have also been intimately familiar with current stage productions. Nevertheless, in this case a previous collector has pasted a small slip of paper at the top right with the actor's name inscribed.
The play Futatsu chôchô kuruwa nikki (Diary of two butterflies in the pleasure quarters: 双蝶々曲輪日記) is a tale of two sumô wrestlers, Hanaregoma Chôkichi, and Nuregami Chôgorô (who appears on the left sheet of the diptych). [Note the pun in the play title, as both names include the character for chô, "butterfly."] The central theme involves an attempt to thwart the ransom of a courtesan named Azuma by the evil samurai Goemon (also Chôkichi's patron) in favor of Chôgorô's sponsor, Yogorô, whom Azuma loves. Yogorô bribes Chôgorô to throw a sumô match against Chôkichi in the hope of enlisting the latter's help in stopping Goemon, but even after being handed a false victory, Chôkichi refuses to violate his patron's wishes. Afterwards, however, in a scene in which Chôgorô prevents Chôkichi from committing seppuku (ritual suicide, lit., "incision of the abdomen": 切腹) over shame for falling into dissipation, the two wrestlers become "brothers," and then Chôkichi returns the favor by aiding Chôgorô in his escape after he murders four men trying to steal Azuma for Goemon.
Hirosada has effectively captured the readiness, bulk, and power of the wrestler Chôkichi in his huge shoulders and bent upper torso. His hands appears to be in a position typically found in pre-bout rituals (shikiri), although he is not dressed in cermonial costume. The red seal in the lower left margin is hand stamped and reads Kinkadô, a mark associated with the publisher Tenmaya Kihei.
References: WAS III-6, no. 97; HOP, no. 24a; IKB-I, no. 1-551; NKE, p. 105