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Archive: Hokuei

(R) Iwai Shijaku I as Osuma no Kata, and (L) Bandô Jûtarô I as Sasaya Hanbei in Honobonoto ura no asagiri, Naka Theater, Osaka
Shunkôsai Hokuei ga
Artist Seal: Fumoto no yuki ("snow in the foothills"); Block Cutter Seal: surimono hori Kasuke ("surimono cut by Kasuke")
No publisher seal
(H x W)

Oban diptych nishiki-e
36.4 x 50.6 cm

Good impression, deluxe edition with metallics (simulated gold and silver), embossing, and burnishing
Good color; good condition (slight soil; slight patchy discoloration on reverse partly showing through in unprinted areas on front; a small wormhole on each sheet at middle adjacent edges within the cone of light; very slightly trimmed; separate sheets, not backed)
Price (USD/¥):
SOLD (Ref #HKE02)

In this design — one of Hokuei's most dramatic — we see Lady Osuma shining her lantern (andon) on Sasaya Hanbei (an accomplice of the villain in the story, Karahashi Daisuke). The encounter takes place just after he has murdered the fiancée of the play's hero, Kowari Dennai, by throwing her off a cliff. In making his escape, he flings star-shaped throwing blades (shuriken) at Osuma.

The play title may be translated as "Daybreak Hidden on the Bay by Morning Fog."


The figures are printed with saturated colors, and there are metallic pigments on the sword (katana) and sheath carried by Osuma. The background — a rather sparse, forbidding, and somewhat surreal scene — is printed mostly in shades of gray, showing only a rock or cave on a beach with an ominous night sky.

Hanbei is captured in an expressive gesture as he twists his torso to face Osuma, crossing his legs and lifting his sedge hat (sugegasa) to hide his face. The light of the torch brightens the colors where it falls upon Hanbei's robes, while beyond the cone of illumination there is overprinting with gray to simulate diminished light. Hokuei has used the effects of differentiated luminance to heighten the dramatic impact as Osuma puts the spotlight on evil, its incarnation so startled that he has no time to turn his body completely around to confront her.

There is a poem written in metallic pigment in the sky on the right-hand sheet (difficult to see in this impression); it is signed by the actor Shijaku, whose haigô was also "Shijaku." It seems to read: Toukoto no / ôki tabine ya / naku kajika ("Wandering the mountains, I sleep during my journey and hear the croaking of frogs"). Kajika were frogs admired for their beautiful sound. The verse may describe the heroine later in the story as she tracks down Hanbei.

fumoto no yuki kasuke seal There is a second state in deluxe-style with the mark of the publisher Iden, but lacking the Kasuke surimono seal (see OSP in the Bibliography). The diptych offered here is a first-state "surimono-style" edition and is the same impression featured in the article "Drama in the Surimono-style Prints of Hokuei" (see Bibliography, DSH). The artist seal is one of many used by Hokuei. In this instance it may be derived from one that his teacher Hokushû used (which was, in turn, based on a seal used by the Edo master Katsushika Hokusai). The hiragana script reads fumoto no yuki, possibly meaning "snow on the foothills" (see seal detail at left). The hand-stamped block cutter seal (reading surimono hori Kasuke, "surimono cut by Kasuke") identifies these sheets as coming off wood blocks cut by one of the celebrated names in Osaka printmaking (see seal detail at right).

References: IBKYS-II, no. 298; KNP-6, p. 255; IKB-I, no. 2-427; DSH, pl. 10 and no. 3; OSP, no. 152; IPO, no. 1