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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Iwai Shijaku I as Osome in Osome Hisamatsu ukina no yomiuri, Minamigawa Theater, Kyoto
Shunkôsai Hokuei ga
Artist Seal: Fumoto no yuki (snow on the foothills); Block Cutter: Surimono hori Kasuke (surimono cut by Kasuke)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
36.5 x 24.8 cm
Excellent color, delicate surimono-style metallics, unbacked; crease lower right corner, glue residue on verso middle of top edge and in far right corner, short paper chain lines visible in several places, very small filled wormhole on hem of kimono, two tiny thinned spots, minor soil and wrinkling
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Inquiry (Ref #HKE35)


Osome Hisamatsu ukina no yomiuri (News of the Affair of Osome and Hisamatsu: お染久松色読販) was derived from an actual event, circa 1710, and first recorded in a celebrated ballad (utazaimon). In Osaka, the anonymous Shinjû kimon kado (Love suicides at the Devil’s Gate, 心中鬼門角), a kabuki play, was performed in 1710, and a jôruri in 1711 (written by Ki no Kaion). The most familiar dramatization, still performed today, is Shinpan utazaimon ("The Strolling Minstrel's Song Book"), a jôruri by Chikamatsu Hanji (1725-1783) from 1780. The widespread popularity of the tale led to many adaptations. Osome Hisamatsu ukina no yomiuri was written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV and first performed in Edo in 1813. Yomiuri (詠売) were "reading-selling" vendors who sang or chanted the news, most often of an immediate and notorious nature (love suicides, local scandals, samurai vendettas, and so on).

Hisamatsu, a destitute nobleman serving as a clerk at the Aburaya pawnshop, is the lover of Osome, although both are betrothed to others (Hisamatsu to Omitsu, Osome to Yamagawa Seibei). Hisamatsu is searching, along with his sister Takegawa, for a stolen family heirloom sword (Goôyoshimitsu, whose loss resulted in their father Ishizu's suicide) pawned by the clerk Kimon no Kihei. The clerk’s spouse Oroku (once a servant to Takekawa, who is trying to raise money for her) joins him in a failed extortion plot. Afterwards, Kihei abducts Osome, but Hisamatsu (who has just escaped from being locked in a storehouse by his half-brother to keep him away from Osome) overtakes them and kills Kihei. The sword Goôyoshimitsu is later reclaimed. After the murder, Hisamatsu and Osome escape to the Sumida river intent on committing shinjû, but they are stopped and survive.


This is the left sheet of a diptych featuring the storehouse scene (the right sheet depicts Iwai Shijakû as Hisamatsu watching Osome from the window of the storehouse). Here, Shijaku performs as Osome, one of seven roles in a nanabake (七変化), a series of dances performed by a single actor who never leaves the stage and who takes on the roles, genders, and costumes of the various stage characters. The same Japanese ideograms can also be pronounced nana-henge and shichi-henge (seven transformations: 七変化). These dances were frequently accompanied by on-stage musicians and featured hayagawari (quick-costume changes: 早替り).

This example includes two unusual seals. Hokuei's artist seal reads fumoto no yuki ("snow on the foothills") and the block cutter seal surimono hori Kasuke ("surimono cut by Kasuke"), the latter indicating a special production by a leading artisan of the period. This is the only impression we know that omits an inscription in the space above Osome, which reads Imotose no toshi aioi Hisamatsu ya sono na o somete dedasu e-zôshi ("Husband & wife, a couple of the same age, Hisamatsu & Osome, whose fame was spread in picture-book novels").

References: IKBYS-II, no. 301; KNP-VI, vol. 6, no. 267; NKE, p. 519