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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Arashi Rikan II as Hirai Gonpachi in Hiyokumon sato no nishiki-e, Osaka at the Naka no Shibai, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
No artist seal
Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei: 天満屋喜兵衞)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.8 x 26.0 cm
Excellent color, good condition, not backed; five filled pinholes, rubbing below Rikan's feet,  faint water stains there and along left edge.
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Inquiry (Ref #HKE41)


Hiyokumon sato no nishiki-e (A brocade picture of lovers' crests in the pleasure quarters: 双紋廓錦絵) was one of a series of popular Gonpachi Komurasaki mono (plays about Gonpachi and Komurasaki: 権八小紫物) based on actual tales involving unrelated historical figures. The samurai Shirai Gonpachi (白井権八)—in the play he was called Hirai Gonpachi: 平井権八)—was guilty of murder and robbery, and was executed in 1679. The second figure was the legendary otokodate (lit., standing man, i.e., chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) Banzuin Chôbei (幡随長兵衛), ca. 1622-1657, said to have been killed by Mizuno Jûrozaemon, a leader of hatamoto-yakko (bannermen footsoldiers: 旗本奴). Banzuin was also the subject of puppet and kabuki plays called Banzuin Chôbei mono (plays about Banzuin Chôbei: 番随長兵衛物).

The theatrical story features Gonpachi who was — by age 16 — famous for his good looks, bravery, and swordsmanship. He kills a fellow samurai and flees to Edo, where at an inn he is warned by a 15-year-old beauty named Komurasaki that the owner is a gang leader plotting to murder him for his sword. Gonpachi swiftly kills all ten of the gang. Afterwards he visits the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter and finds Komurasaki at the Miuraya brothel, now a prostitute selling herself to earn money for her destitute parents. Without the funds to ransom her, Gonpachi turns to a life of debauchery, supporting himself by robbery and murder. When he is finally captured and executed, the devoted Komurasaki takes her life at his grave. To honor their memory, sympathetic citizens build a tumulus called hiyokuzuka ("lovers' tomb") and temple priests carve a picture of the Hiyoku no tori (比翼鳥), a mythical love-bird — both male and female, each with one eye and one wing — that when flying join as one sex, symbolizing connubial love and fidelity.


Hokuei's dramatic night scene depicts a stealthy Gonpachi intently observing a samurai and his servant carrying a lantern (andon). The contrast between Gonpachi's full-color figure and the silhouettes is particularly striking, aided by the warm glow of the pale pink foreground (perhaps suggesting illumination by oil lamp).

References: IBKYS-II, no. 362; KNP-6, p. 301; IKB-I, no. 2-441; NKE, p. 133