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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

(R) Nakamura Utaemon III as Kasahara Rôô [Tsukahara Bokuden)] and (L) Nakamura Shikan II as Miyamoto Musashi in Katakiuchi nitô eiyûki, Kado no Shibai, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
No artist seal
Wataki (Wataya Kihei, 綿屋喜兵衞)
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e
36.4 x 49.6 cm
Very good
Very good color; good condition (slight trimming, more so at far R; light soiling and a few tiny insect holes; light album fold on R edge of L sheet; darker album fold, still moderate, at R edge of R sheet)
Price (USD/¥):

Katakiuchi nitô 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 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 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 tale, 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.


Prints depicting Musashi have become especially popular in recent years. In the present example, Hokuei has depicted a snowy, rocky mountain landscape. Rôô holds a sauce-pan lid from an iron pot while Musashi has drawn both his swords and stands ready to attack. Musashi had bragged about his exploits, but Rôô (literally "old man") laughed, whereupon Musashi attacked him. Kasawara easily parried the young hot-head's sword thrusts — using the saucepan lid as a shield. When Musashi discovered Kasawara's identity, he apologised and stayed to learn more advanced fighting techniques. Musashi was famous for the two-sword style (nitôryû: 二刀流) method, but Kawahara Rôô (Tsukahara Bokuden, 塚原卜伝 1489-1571) was also a masterful swordsman who after this encounter would teach Musashi highly advanced techniques in swordsmanship. In reality, Tsukahara died more than a decade before the birth of Musashi, so the tale of this confrontation is a fiction. The nito (lit., two islands) of the play title puns on nitô (two swords).

References: KNP-6, p. 298; IKB-I, p. 43, no. 1-495