This formal but sensitive portrait is a shini-e ("death print") issued to commemorate the passing away of the actor Arashi
Koroku IV (1783 - 11/1826). The vast majority of shini-e depicted actors, but a few also commemorated the deaths of artists and musicians.
Conventional shini-e often depicted the memorialized figures in light blue court robes called "death dresses" (shini
sôzoku) or ceremonial robes (mizu kamishimo). Many included the dates of death, ages, posthumous Buddhist names
(kaimyô), and temple burial sites, while others also inscribed the death poems of the deceased.
Koroku, a specialist in onnagata roles, died on the 16th day of the 11th month in 1826 (the date can be confirmed on a second shini-e
for Koroku by Hokushû). He is shown here as a female otokodate (chivalrous commoner), a fanciful variant on the combative male champions
of city-dwelling commoners. The corresponding male otokodate was Hotei Ichiemon from the play Otokodate itsutsu karigane,
"Karigane’s five brave and chivalrous men."
One accessory often associated with otokodate was the wooden flute (shakuhachi), the top of which can be seen at Koroku's back. The
towel (tenugui) draped around his shoulders bears the crest of Oichi's (and Ichiemon's) namesake, Hotei ("cloth sack"), the God
of Happiness and Prosperity, and one of the Shichi-fukujin or "Seven Gods of Good Luck." The sack, which contained precious things
(takaramono), is repeated as a motif in brass pigments on the kimono. Yet another symbol of Hotei's, a rigid fan (uchiwa), is tucked
under and partly obscured by Koroku's right sleeve.
The poem is signed Yoshidaya Seijo, the actor's wife (Yoshidaya was Koroku's given name, or yagô). It is exceptionally
rare to find an Osaka print with a dedicatory poem composed by an actor's spouse.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 169; KNZ, no. 425; OK, no. 53; OSP, no. 96