Meiboku sendai hagi (Sandalwood and bush clover of Sendai: 伽羅先代萩) dramatized the intriques over succession within the Date clan of Sendai during the
third quarter of the seventeenth century. It was performed in an alternate sekai ("world" or theatrical setting: 世界), set back in time during the Onin civil war under the Ashikaga shogunate of the fifteenth century (Ashikaga thus becomes a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name). It is a classic play, so popular that during the Edo period it had
at least one performance nearly every year since its premiere in 1777. The fictionalized central story involved Lord Ashikaga Yorikane's forays into the pleasure quarter and his murder of the courtesan Takao (高尾). This episode is an amplification of an actual incident in which the twenty-one-year-old clan leader Date Tsunamune became the lover of the Yoshiwara courtesan Takao, causing a scandal that led to his downfall. Another story line involves Nikki Danjô (Yorikane's evil nephew), the orchestrator of a conspiracy
to overthrow Yorikane. The intrigue failed, however, and Nikki was
The giant ghostly rodent lurking behind the two protagonists is actually Nikki, who possess magical powers and
can transform himself into a rat. He is a prime example of an important role type known as jitsuaku ("real villains": 実悪) — unrepentantly evil samurai who plot to overthrow their lords. They are also referred
to as kuni kuzushi ("demolisher of nations") to signify their intention to usurp an emperor's
throne or a daimyô's domain.
This is another example of a Hirosada design with a didactic or moralizing title (Kômei buyûden,
or "Tales of celebrated bravery") following the Tenpô Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku), 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 remained cautious for nearly
a decade afterwards. Typical of this period, actor names have been omitted, although theater fans did not need inscribed
names to recognize their favorite stars.
This is one of Hirosada's more dramatic prints— particularly noteworthy is the effective contrast between the
saturated, colorful pigments of the two samurai and the pale gray washes of the rat.
References: IBKYS-IV, no. 85; WAS III-6, no. 58; KNP-6, p. 512; NKE, p. 396