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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Arashi Rikan II as Ume no Yoshibei in Suda no haru geiko katagi, Chikugo Theater, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
Fumoto no Yuki ("Snow in the footills")
Honsei (Honya Seishichi: 本屋清七)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
35.6 x 24.1 cm
Very good
Very good color; overall good condition (unbacked; slightly toned; slightly trimmed; small thin spots and repaired holes along vertical edges, a few with backing repairs; some soil; a stain on Rikan's right sleeve; slight rubbing)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: HKE19


Suda no haru geiko katagi (A geisha's temperament and her client: 隅田春妓客性) was written by Namiki Gohei I (1747-1808) and premiered in Edo, 1/1796. It was based on an actual murder in Osaka in 1689 when a man named Yoshibei killed a clerk named Chôkichi. In the play, Yoshibei, an otokodate (lit., "standing man" or chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作, a street fighter often mythologized as a hero to the downtrodden in Edo-period urban Japan), has sworn to protect a Chiba samurai named Kingorô and his young wife Kosan, daughter of Mishima Hayato. Yoshibei is a volatile sort who has taken to wearing a purple zukin (head cloth: 頭巾) as a reminder to control his temper. A precious poem card belonging to the Hayoto clan has been stolen and Yoshibei searches for it in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, where Kosan has indentured herself as a geisha. Yoshibei decides to ransom her for Kingorô and so his wife, Okun, asks her brother Chôkichi, a rice broker, for the money. When Chôkichi is assaulted by a robber along the Ô River, Yoshibei chases the thief away. It is very dark and Yoshibei and Chôkichi do not recognize one another. Yoshibei then asks to borrow the money Chôkichi is carrying, not realizing it was intended for him to pay off Kosan's ransom. When Chôkichi refuses, the enraged Yoshibei kills him, using the zukin in an ironic (and literal) twist of purpose.


Yoshibei has just tossed his purple zukin (head cloth: 頭巾) into the air, a signal that he has removed the symbolic restraint on his temper. Outside the theater, this zukin became fashionable and was known as a sojûrô zukin after the actor Sawamura Sojûrô I (1685-1756), who was the first to play the role of Yoshibei in an earlier kabuki version of the story. The manner of shaving Yoshibei's head also became a kata (conventional forms in kabuki: 型), called a yakko atama (footman's head). Yet other kata associated with this role are the emblems on the robes: herons (symbolizing innocence) and crows (bad luck), motifs that might be generally associated with the plight of otokodate coming to the rescue of commoners, but also, in this case, with the unfortunate Chôkichi.

The poem is signed by the actor Rikan.

References: WAS II-5, no. 516; KNP-6, p. 283; OK, no. 73; NKE, p. 614