The play Sangoku daiichi nochi no kusemono (三國大市川対恋) was one of many so-called Tenjiku Tokubei mono (Plays about Tenjiku Tokubei: 天竺徳兵衛物) from the puppet and kabuki theaters. They featured adaptations of the Tenjiku Tokubei monogatari (Tale of Tokubei in India: 天竺徳兵衛物語) about a Korean-Japanese sailor who traveled far from Japan, a rare occurrence during the Tokugawa period. They were based on the historical Edo merchant seaman Takamatsu Tokubei who entered the port of Nagasaki on a Dutch vessel in 1633 with a record of his adventures. Playwrights fictionalized these accounts into tales of treason, including intrigues against Japan's ruler, Mashiba Hisayoshi (the historical Toyotomi Hideyoshi), by Yoshioka Sôkan (the Korean warrior Moku Sokan), whom Tokubei joins in attempts to assassinate Hisayoshi. The supernatural is also introduced in the guise of Tokubei's learning the art of toad sorcery, but his magical powers are ultimately broken and he is destroyed.
Sanemon IX is dressed in exotic costume (in a Chinese style) befitting a princess from a foreign land.
This is the right-hand sheet of a triptych. We also have an impression of the middle sheet (see HSD33).
The series title Chûkô bûyuden (Tales of courage, loyalty, and filial piety: 忠孝武勇伝) reflected the cautious approach taken by print publishers for years after the Tenpô Reforms (Tenpô kaikaku) of 7/1842. These edicts 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 punishing violaters. Chûkô bûyuden is an example of the rather transparent use of didactic or moralizing series titles to endow a print with a loftier purpose. Another bit of camouflage was the omission of actor names (the cartouches carry only the role names and series title). Even so, theatergoers hardly needed the inscribed names, as the physiognomies were easily identifiable and they would have been intimately familiar with current stage productions.
References: IKBYS-IV, no. 99; NKE, pp. 644-645