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Archive: Hokuei

(R) Iwai Shijaku I as nyôbô [wife] Oyoshi & (L) Arashi Rikan II as Higuchi Jirô in Hiragana seisuiki, Naka Theater, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
Artist seal: Hokuei
Honsei (Honya Seishichi: 本屋清七)
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e (deluxe edition with metallics)
37.4 x 50.8 cm
Very good
Excellent color and very good overall condition (unbacked; slight trimming into cartouche of L sheet, flattened album crease on left edge of R sheet, very minor soil, small repairs of two corners)
Price (USD/¥):
Inquiry (Ref #HKE13)

Hiragana seisuiki ("Simple chronicle of the rise and fall of the Heike and Genji": ひらかな盛衰記) was based on the medieval Genpei seisuiki (History of the Rise and Fall of the Genji and Heike: 源平盛衰記), a tale of the wars between the Heike (Taira) and Genji (Minamoto) clans in 1184. The warrior Higuchi Jirô Kanemitsu, in disguise as the boatman Matsuemon, seeks revenge against the Genji general Minamoto no Yoshitsune who has slain Higuchi’s lord, the Heike general Kiso Yoshinaka. Matsuemon's wife, Oyoshi, cares for a young boy she believes to be their son Tsuchimatsu, who is actually Yoshinaka's son, Komawaka (the children were mixed up in an earlier melee during an attempt to assassinate Komawaka, when Tsuchimatsu was killed in his place). Oyoshi's father, Gonshirô, has instructed Matsuemon in the secret art of rowing called sakaro (backwards rowing), used to position ships to great advantage during battle. Yoshitsune's allies, the Kajiwara, offer Matsuemon command of Yoshitsune's ship in exchange for teaching them sakaro, which he sees as a perfect opportunity for revenge. The Kajiwara, however, know of his intentions, and send warriors to take Matsuemon prisoner. Although Matsuemon (i.e., now revealed as Higuchi Jirô) fights off the first wave of attackers in spectacular fashion, he is eventually persuaded to surrender.


In this scene, Matsuemon is fighting off two assailants. He has planted his foot on the back of the neck of one attacker, pinning him to the boat. The other he has tossed into the rough sea (behind the boat) where he flails in the crashing waves. Oyoshi stands near the water's edge, seeming to approve of her husband's prowess.

The agitated drawing of the waves, reminiscent of Hokusai and earlier Edo artists, aniimates the scene, making it one of Hokuei's memorable compositions.

References: WAS I-4, no. 511; NKE, p. 167