Yûshoku Kamakurayama (Ancient military customs at Kamakura Mountain: 有職鎌倉山) premiered as a ningyô jôruri (puppet play: 人形淨瑠璃) in 1789 in Osaka. It dramatizes the exploits of a hatamoto (military guard or bannerman-samurai, lit., “headquarters of the banner”: 旗本) named Sano Zenzaemon, who in an actual historical event, fought against the corrupt and inflationary rule of Tanuma Okitsugu (1719-1788), a daimyô and chief councilor of the shogunate. Zenzaemon murdered Okitsugu's son, Tanuma Okitomo, inside the Shogun's castle in 1784 (possibly with the involvement of senior members of the government, who were not punished). So great was the general enmity toward the Tanuma rule that Okitomo's coffin was stoned as it was carried through the streets to its final resting place. The precipitating cause, however, may have been more personal --- Okitsugu's reneging on a promise to Zenzaemon who had paid the administrator 620 ryô (gold coins: 両). After the assassination, Zenzaemon was forced to take his own life. Okitsugu lost much of his power with the death of his patron, the tenth shogun Tokugawa Ieharu (徳川家治 1737-1786), and he died two years later.
In kabuki, a large number of adaptations of the story appeared. Yûshoku Kamakurayama is set back in a different sekai (world or sphere: 世界), during the twelfth century, with name changes, as is often found in the popular theater. Miura Yasamura and his son Arajirô's plot to assassinate Tokiyori is foiled by Sano Genzaemon's uncle, Tsunekage and his carpenter Yogosaku. Later, during a hawking outing, Arajirô humiliates Genzaemon, at one point plunging his sword blade into bean jam and thrusting the treat at Genzaemon, who, enraged, kills Arajirô in the palace. This capital offence against shogunal rule requires Genzaemon to commit seppuku (ritual suicide, lit., "incision of the abdomen: 切腹). His family hides at Sano no Watashi, aided by their retainer Yûsuke, who slays an ally of Yasamura named Yabu Tadokuan sent to murder him (Yûsuke). Ultimately, Yasamura's rebellion fails and the Sano family regains its power with Genzaemon's son, Umenosuke, as its leader.
The style of drawing the face owes something to both earlier Osaka artists of the 1810s and to the later works of Hokushû in the 1820s, with whom Hokushô may have studied. It is a powerfully effective portrayal of a determined warrior intent on protecting the family to whom he has sworn his loyalty.
This is an exceedingly rare work by a little known artist.
The poem at the top center, signed "Kosei," offers thanks to the actor's fans and reads, Chûgi soto miraruru muneno sho kana (As people watch me loyally, my chest warms). The role and actor's name are given at the top left.
References: KNZ, no. 215; NKE, p. 716