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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Nakamura Shikan II (Nakamura Utaemon IV) as Miyamoto Musashi in Katakiuchi nito eiyûki, Kado Theater, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
No artist seal
Honsei (Honya Seishichi: 本屋清七)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.0 x 25.0 cm
Very good (deluxe with some metallics)
Good color and good overall condition (unbacked; small creases, rubbing, spots, marks and paper flaws here and there)
Price (USD/¥):

Katakiuchi nito eiyûki (A tale of revenge and great courage on two islands: 復讐二島英勇記) draws upon the many legends of the historical Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584-1645; 宮本 武蔵), whose name meant "Storehouse of military knowledge." Born in Mimasaka or Harima, Japan, he was a legendary swordsman and the son of the celebrated fencing master Yoshioka Tarozaemon, a retainer of the Ashikaga shôgun Yoshiteru. Musashi was a bold and reputedly reckless adventurer who nevertheless survived armed combat more than 60 times and died a natural death on June 13, 1645 in Higo. Katakiuchi nitô no eiyûki was one of the many popular tales of vengeance and retribution, "revenge plays" called katakiuchi mono (敵討物) or adauchi mono (仇打ち物). In one such incident, Musashi adroitly used a wooden sword — a deadly weapon in the hands of a master — to slay the murderer of his father. Today, Musashi is widely known as the author of Gorin no sho (The Book of Five Rings: 五輪書), a book on military tactics, strategy, and philosophy. After its first English translation in 1974, the treatise captured the popular imagination and was seriously studied by business executives in the West to understand Japanese management techniques and strategies.


This is one of Hokuei's notable roundel designs in which the actor is shown in okubi ("large head": 大首) format. It appears to depict a standard mie (climactic pose: 見得), as other Osaka artists, including Hirosada, depicted actors in the same manner for this role, presumably showing Musashi in the mountains where he confronts the celebrated fencing master Kasawara Bokuden.

References: WAS II-5, no. 529; KNP-6, p. 298; OK, no. 164