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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Nakamura Utaemon III as Denkaibô in Yomiuri chongare bushi, Kado Theater, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
Artist seal: Hokuei
Wataki (Wataya Kihei, 綿屋喜兵衞)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.7 x 26.5 cm
Excellent color and very good condition (unbacked; one repaired wormhole upper left corner)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: HKE33


The plot of the play Yomiuri chongare-bushi (Melodies for texts to sing the news: 詠売ちよんがれ節) is unknown to us, although parsing the title might suggest a broad context for the action. Yomiuri (lit., "reading-selling": 詠売) refers to vendors who worked alone, in pairs, or in small groups, singing or chanting news, most often of an immediate and notorious nature (love suicides and scandals, samurai vendettas, and the like). Yomiuri would recite and perform sections of broadsheets called kawaraban ("tile-editions" or "river-bed prints": 瓦版) and were sometimes accompanied by percussion or samisen players, although many only used a stick to tap on the page being read. A single storyteller would typically alternate between song (fushi: 節) and ordinary speech (kotoba: 言). These vendors worked in urban centers as well as spreading out to the rural areas delivering their news. The chongare in the play title refers to popular, often vulgar and improper, extemporized texts recited to rhythmic instrumental accompaniment. Chongare (also written 弔歌連 and pronounced chongari and chobokure) became popular in the early nineteenth century as a hybrid of wasan Buddhist chanting with elements of saimon Shinto ballads and sekkyôbushi narrative ballads.


Utaemon performs a dance with one leg raised high as he manipulates a folding fan (ôgi: 扇), a standard, hand-held stage properrty (kodôgu: 小道具) often found in kabuki dance sequences.

The poem is signed "Baigyoku" (the haimyô or poetry name of Utaemon III), plus his kakihan (a stylized seal, here in the form of an eye), which also appears on his fan, encircled in stylized hiragana for me (め), here meaning "eye." Difficult to see in reproduction, the background is printed with a faint pink pigment.

References: IKB-I, p. 43, 1-497; KNP-6, p. 301