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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

(R) Iwai Shijaku I as Osuma no Kata, and (L) Bandô Jûtarô I as Sasaya Hanbei in Honobonoto ura no asagiri, Naka Theater, Osaka
Shunkôsai Hokuei ga
Artist Seal: Fumoto no yuki ("snow in the foothills"); Block Cutter Seal: surimono hori Kasuke ("surimono cut by Kasuke")
No publisher seal (first state before the later edition with the Iden seal)
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e
37.7 X 51.0 cm
Excellent deluxe edition with metallics
Excellent color and overall condition, unbacked; slight soil middle left of right sheet, repaired mirror-image worrm tracks in sky near inner edges, flattened album crease on R sheet
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: HKE72


Honobonoto ura no asagiri (Daybreak hidden on the bay by morning fog: 仏暁浦朝霧) is an example of an adauchi mono (revenge tale: 仇打ち物). In this design — one of Hokuei's most dramatic — we see Lady Osuma shining her lantern on Sasaya Hanbei (an accomplice of the villain in the story, Karahashi Daisuke). The encounter takes place just after he has murdered the fiancée of the play's hero, Kowari Dennai, by throwing her off a cliff. In making his escape, he flings star-shaped throwing blades (shuriken: 手裡劍) at Osuma.


The figures are printed with saturated colors, and there are metallic pigments on the sword (katana) and sheath carried by Osuma. The background — a rather sparse, forbidding, and somewhat surreal scene — is printed mostly in shades of gray, showing only a rock or cave on a beach with an ominous night sky.

Hanbei is captured in an expressive gesture as he twists his torso to face Osuma, crossing his legs and lifting his sugegasa (sedge hat: 菅笠) to hide his face. The light of the torch brightens the colors where it falls upon Hanbei's robes, while beyond the cone of illumination there is overprinting with gray to simulate diminished light. Hokuei has used the effects of differentiated luminance to heighten the dramatic impact as Osuma puts the spotlight on evil, its incarnation so startled that he has no time to turn his body completely around to confront her.

There is a poem written in metallic pigment in the sky on the right-hand sheet (partly rubbed and difficult to photograph) signed by the actor Shijaku, whose haigô was also "Shijaku." It seems to read: Toukoto no / ôki tabine ya / naku kajika ("Wandering the mountains, I sleep during my journey and hear the croaking of frogs"). Kajika were frogs admired for their beautiful sound. The verse possibly describes the heroine later in the story as she tracks down Hanbei.

fumoto no yuki kasuke seal The diptych offered here is from the first-state "surimono-style" edition. The hand-stamped block carver seal (reading surimono hori Kasuke 摺物ホリ嘉スケ, "surimono cut by Kasuke") identifies these sheets as coming off wood blocks cut by one of the celebrated names in Osaka printmaking (see seal detail at right).

The artist seal (see detail at left) is one of many used by Hokuei. In this instance it might have been derived from one that his teacher Hokushû used (which was, in turn, based on a seal used by the Edo master Katsushika Hokusai). The hiragana script reads fumoto no yuki (ふもとのゆき) likely meaning "snow on the foothills."

There is a second state in deluxe-style with the mark of the publisher Iden, but lacking the Kasuke surimono seal (see OSP in the Bibliography).

References: IBKYS-II, no. 298; KNP-6, p. 255; IKB-I, no. 2-427; DSH, pl. 10 and no. 3; OSP, no. 152; IPO, no. 1