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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

(1R) Bandô Hikosaburô IV (坂東彦三郎) as Yamazaki Yogorô (山崎与五郎) and (2R) Arashi San’emon IX (嵐三右衛門) as [Fujiya 藤屋] Azuma (あづま) in Futatsu chôchô kuruwa nikki (Diary of two butterflies from the licensed quarters: 双蝶々曲輪日記), Ônishi Theater, Osaka
Shunbaisai Hokuei ga (春梅齋北英画)
No artist seal
Tenki (天キ), Tenmaya Kihei
(H x W)
ôban nishiki-e
37.8 x 25.7 cm
Excellent, deluxe edition with metallics
Very good color and condition; slight rubbing and soil
Price (USD/¥):

The central theme of Futatsu chôchô kuruwa nikki involves an attempt to thwart the ransom of a courtesan named Fujiya Azuma by the evil samurai Hiraoka Goemon (who is also the wrestler Chôkichi’s patron) in favor of the wrestler Chôgorô’s sponsor, Yogorô, whom Azuma loves. Yogorô bribes Chôgorô to throw a sumô match against Chōkichi in the hope of enlisting the latter’s help in stopping Goemon, but even after being handed a false victory, Chôkichi refuses to violate his patron’s wishes and so declines to help. Afterwards, however, in a scene in which Chôgorô prevents Chôkichi from committing seppuku (ritual suicide: 切腹) over shame for falling into dissipation, the two wrestlers become "brothers," and then Chôkichi returns the favor by aiding Chôgorô in an escape after he murders four men trying to steal Azuma for Goemon. Yogorô has by now purchased Azuma’s contract and the two lovers have already eloped to escape Goemon. Sadly, during their journey, Yogorô falls into madness.


Hokuei has depicted the travel scene, a moment from Act VII called the “Turbulent blooming of the rapeseed travel dance” (Michiyuki natane no midarezaki: 道行菜種の乱咲) when Yogorô becomes deranged. A lyrical episode, it ends with a beautiful description of the scenery and the circumstances in which Yogorô and Azuma find themselves. The lovers wear similarly patterned kimono, which was apparently a conventional motif, or kata (form: 型) used repeatedly in kabuki costuming for these roles, as other artists also depicted paired-up kimonos for this scene — Shunshôsai Hokuchô's tetraptych for a production in 7/1827 at the Kado Theater, and Gigadô Ashiyuki's tetraptych (ASY27) also for the 1827 staging.

Hokuei's bright and colorful design is one of his most appealing double full-length portraits. Over several decades, we have seen only four impressions, including the present example.

Other impressions are in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh (A.1887.745.35.11) and the National Gallery, Prague. However, none could be found in the Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka or in the Waseda University collection, Tokyo.

References: KNP-6, p. 267