The historical Ishikawa Goemon was a notorious masterless samurai (rônin) during the reign of the shôgun Toyotomi
Hideyoshi. At age sixteen he murdered three men while attempting to steal from his master. After his escape, he lived as a bandit for the next two
decades until, in 1594, he was finally captured during a failed attempt to kill Hideyoshi. Goemon met a grisly end by being boiled in oil.
The theatrical Goemon was transformed into a hero — fearless, elusive, and endowed with magical powers. The first staging
of Goemon’s exploits occurred in the 1680s. Kinmon gosan no kiri premiered in 1788 as a five-act drama (it was renamed
to Sanmon gosan no kiri for its premiere in Edo in 1800). It recounts Goemon's efforts to
take revenge against Mashiba Hisayoshi (a pseudonym for the historical Hideyoshi), the enemy of both his adoptive and natural
fathers. The gosan ("five, three [of paulownia]") in the title refers to the five flowers on the three stems above the
paulownia (kiri) leaves, Hideyoshi’s particular version of the kiri crest (visible on each sleeve), for centuries
symbolic of imperial and shogunal power.
While admiring the beautiful hanging cherry blossoms (visible in the lower right corner), a hawk flies to Goemon atop the main gate of the
Nanzen Temple in Kyoto. The bird holds a kimono sleeve in its beak with an inscription — written in blood — informing him
that his murdered father was involved in a plot to overthrow Hideyoshi in the name of the Chinese emperor.
Goemon is depicted on the balcony of the Nanzen Temple gate, where he is hiding from Hisayoshi, though still finding the time to admire the
cherry blossoms (visible at the lower right). Below the balcony a pilgrim will soon appear — Hisayoshi in disguise, hunting for his
enemy Goemon. (The bandit's bushy wig was meant to signal that he had been on the run for months, unable to shave his pate.)
The temple gate represented one of kabuki's most impressive settings, with a magnificent vermilion gate elevated by a
mechanical lift and rising high above the stage. The pink colorant used in
Hokushû's print — a fanciful substitute for the conventional vermilion of the famous gate — was most unusual and rarely found in
There are three seals at the lower left of the design, for the publisher (Toshin), block cutter (horiko Yamaichi), and printer (suriko
Matsumura) — see detail at right. Another seal near the signature reads Kakuseidô and is assumed to be a either a co-publisher or a
Provenance: Okada Isajiro (岡田伊三次郎), a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its gradual dispersal starting in the year 2000 — a
blockbuster event in the world of kamigata-e; see KAM).
References: IKBYS-I, no. 116; WAS III-4, no. 156; OSP, no. 43; KNP-6, p. 86; IKB-I, no. 2-378; NKE, p. 551