Aikikyô Karigane gomon (Blue medicinal root and Karigane’s five crests: 藍桔梗雁金五紋) by the Osaka playwright Namiki Gohei I (並木五瓶 1747-1808) premiered at the Kado Theater in 7/1774. It is one of various Karigane gonin otoko mono (Karigane's five-men plays), adaptations of earlier plays about the historical Karigane gonin ("Karigane five"), members of an infamous gang of eleven or more outlaws led by Karigane Bunshichi. After a crime spree lasting several years, they were captured and executed in 1702. Kabuki playwrights transformed these street thugs into otokodate ("standing men": 男伊達), heroic defenders of the townspeople, in particular, protectors against the trouble-making, low-ranking samurai called hatamoto yakko ("bannermen’s footmen": 旗本奴). On the theatrical stage, otokodate and the hatamoto yakko were often portrayed in street fights and intrigues, with other scenes depicting them in the pleasure quarters or gambling dens.
The playwright Namiki Gohei I (並木五瓶 1747-1808) was born in the Doshômachi district of Osaka. He became a student of the playwright Namiki Shôzô I (並木正三 1730–1773), and by 1775 he had secured the position of main playwright for the Hayakumo kabuki theatre in Kyoto. Namiki wrote over 110 plays, both jidaimono ("period pieces" or history plays, 時代物) and sewamono ("everyday piece" or domestic plays, 世話物). Among these was a revival of the aforementioned Aikikyô Karigane gomon (藍桔梗雁金五紋) under a similar title — Aigikyô Karigane komon (藍桔梗雁金小紋), which premiered in 5/1797. After Gohei moved to Edo in 1794, he enjoyed further success and earned a salary or 300 ryô, an almost unheard-of amount for a playwright. He was celebrated for introducing the Kamigata (Osaka-Kyoto) style of dramaturgy into Edo stagings, enhancing the expressiveness of kabuki roles and favoring concise writing over verbosity (the latter frequently encountered in Edo plays). He also introduced the Kamigata convention of titling each half of the program separately (i.e., presenting two separate plays on a single-day's program), the first a jidaimono, the second a sewamono. The Edo custom, however, was to stage a single play, with the first part focusing on a historical character, and the second a sewamono-style equivalent. Often, this involved the so-called jitsu-wa or jitsu ha (in reality or actually, 実ハ or 実は) mode in which the historical character from the first part would reappear under a different name in the second part.
Often depicted in ukiyo-e prints are the emblems associated with each otokodate: Karigane Bunshichi's stylized triple-geese hexagon; Kaminari Shôkurô’s two crossed drum sticks; Anno Heibei's ideograph reading "an" ('tranquility'); Gokuin Sen’emon's crossed mallets over a character from his name, reading "sen" (thousand); and Hotei Ichiemon's fan and sack. However, for the present design, Hokuei used alternative patterns on the robes worn by Nakamura Utaemon III and Arashi Rikan II.
The red paper lanterns are each inscribed with the character “setsu” (折), whose significance is unclear.
This finely printed impression has survived with very well preserved colors.
References: IKBYS-II, no. 314 (inv H186); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (11.35303-4); IKB-I, 1-487); KNP-6, p. 265; NKE, pp. 454-455.