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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


We are unfamiliar with the plot behind Yomiuri chongarebushi (Melodies for texts to sing the news: 詠売ちよんがれ節) [chiyongare also written 弔歌連 in some renderings of the play title]. From Hokuei's design we might infer that it was included on a larger program as a dance interlude. 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 or chobokure) became popular in the early nineteenth century as a hybrid of wasan Buddhist chanting with elements of saimon Shinto ballads and narrative ballads performed by sekkyô-bushi (Sutra sermonizers: 説経節).


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

The poem inscribed above the actor is signed Baigyoku (梅玉), Utaemon’s haimyô or poetry name, along with his kakihan ("writing seal" or signature flourish: 花押) of an eye, which is also on the fan, encircled in stylized hiragana for me (め), here meaning "eye." The Japanese text reads: Kise wata ni iroha yuzuri te kiku no sono (着せ綿にいろは譲りて菊の園).

Difficult to see in reproduction, the background is printed with a faint pink pigment. Other impressions can be found in the British Museum (1906,1220,0.1122), the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (FP 2 - JPD, no. 2178), and the Tokyo Metropolitan Library (4647-039).

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