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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Arashi Rikan II as Yakko [servant: 奴] no Koman in Sugata kurabe deiri no minato at the Naka no Shibai, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga
Artist seal: No seal
No publisher seal
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.1 x 26.1 cm
Excellent, deluxe edition with metallics
Very good color and good condition; backed (to protect "frame" from detaching due to metallics), several small wormholes, and minor marks, including on face and neck, some wear to background, slight stain at lower R
Price (USD/¥):

Sugata kurabe deiri no minato (Contest of appearances, quarrel at the harbor): 容競出入湊) premiered in 1748. It was written by Nimiki Jôsuke and others for the ningyô jôruri (puppet theater: 人形淨瑠璃). Adapted from various puppet and kabuki productions, the play spotlights Kurofune Chûemon, head of a gang of otokodate (chivalrous commoners: 男伊達 or 男作). Sugata kurabe first introduced the character of Yakko no Koman, a celebrated female otokodate. Inspired by actual events during the first half of the seventeenth century, the drama features clashes between two gangs of otokodate, one led by Chûemon, the other by Gokumon Shôbei. Koman's father wants her to marry, against her wishes, an ally of Chûemon's named Gorohachi, but he is in love with the courtesan Takigawa. Shôbei, in turn, is also infatuated with Takigawa. When she escapes from the pleasure quarter to see Gorohachi, who is hiding in Chûemon's house, Shôbei follows her and confronts Chûemon. Shôbei then attacks Chûemon and kills him.

The real-life Yakko no Koman is said to have been named Miyoshi Oyuki. She never married, reputedly because she did not want to risk a fate like her mother's, who was forced to serve Koman's father as a mere housekeeper after he fell in love with, redeemed, and married a courtesan and brought her into his home. Koman apparently emulated the lifestyle of otokodate, but she was also accomplished in poetry, painting, and calligraphy. The writer Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848) recorded in a diary that he once met Koman when she was in her seventies and was impressed by her erudition.


Koman plays an shakuhachi (end-blown wooden flute: 尺八) often associated with komuso (mendicant monks: 虚無僧) of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism, but also a common accoutrement among otokodate (even serving as a weapon when nothing else was at hand). Typically it was not thought proper for a woman to play the shakuhachi, ostensibly because of its phallic shape. In fact, by at least the mid-nineteenth century, the expression "playing the shakuhachi" was slang for fellatio.

The visual impact of the simulated wood frame is the first thing one notices in this design, along with the elegant figure of Rikan II set against a gradated dark background. The keyblock for this design is known to have been carved by the eminent block cutter Kasuke.

References: IBKYS-II, no. 329; OSP, no. 160; KNP-6, p. 280