The historical Hachiman Tarô Yoshiie (Minamoto no Yoshiie; 1041-1108) was a celebrated warrior of the Heian
period. His popular name, Hachiman Tarô, meant "First-born of the God of War." A fearless
and brilliant tactician, Yoshiie helped to quell rebel uprisings against the emperor and establish the Minamoto hegemony
in northern Japan, initiating a long period of Minamoto military dominance.
The legendary Yoshiie was reputed to have been, among many things, an exceptional archer who could shoot arrows with
such force that they pierced three suits of armor. On one occasion three snappings of his bow string frightened away a
demon (oni) said to have caused an illness threatening the life of his father, Minamoto Yoriyoshi (995-1082).
Ôshû adachigahara was written by Chikamatsu Hanji and others, premiering as a ningyô
jôruri (puppet play) in 1762 at the Takemoto no shibai, Osaka. The plot is loosely based on events involving
the defeat of Abe no Sadatô and Abe no Munetô, sons of Yoritoki of Ôshû, who were defeated by
Yoshiie at Ôshû. The brothers conspire to assassinate Yoshiie and recapture the Abe clan's power lost nine
years earlier. The events follow complicated paths with various feuding characters, disguises, criminal acts, and suicides,
but in the end Yoshiie allows Sadatô and Munetô to leave his mansion after challenging them to meet in battle.
This print and at least three others from the series were among the first designs published after the relaxation of the Tenpô
Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku) — edicts that in 7/1842 banned actor prints in Osaka, virtually halting print production
in Kamigata for five years. The series title, Kômei buyûden (Chronicles of famous and courageous deeds), is indicative
of the guarded approach to Osaka printmaking following the reforms. 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. The use of didactic or moralizing titles was
intended to endow a print with a loftier purpose. Another bit of "camouflage" was the omission of actor names, although the
accurate physiognomies were easily identifiable by patrons of yakusha-e, who would have been intimately familiar with the performers
and current stage productions. These transparent gestures would not have fooled the censors, but avoiding explicit references to actors
apparently satisfied the letter of the law.
According to the Kabuki nenpyô (see KNP-6 reference below), there were three plays on the program (Ôshû
adachigahara, Katsuragwa renri no shigarami, and Taiko shusse zome), for which the actor Jitsukawa Ensaburô I (1813-1867)
performed six roles.
The portraits within roundels found in the series Kômei buyûden were part of a vogue for such compositions that
simultaneously represented "mirrors" (kagami) of actors and telescopic views influenced by the importation of Western
scopic instruments. Another influence might have been the "ceiling curtains" (tenjômaku) of roundel portraits
painted on cloths that were presented to actors. Here we see a roundel surrounded by irises (ayame) above which float blue and yellow clouds.
Note: Ôban-size prints constituted a very small percentage of Hirosada's designs — making our print one of the few available examples.
References: IKB-I, no. 2-491; KNP-6, p. 500; NKE, p. 518