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Archive: Hokushû (北洲)

(R) Nakamura Utaemon III as Kanda Yogorô; (M) Nakamura Sankô I as keisei (courtesan) Kashiwagi; (L) Ichikawa Ebijûrô I as Teraoka Heiemon in Ôishizuri sakura tanzaku, Naka Theater, Osaka
Shunkôsai Hokushû ga
No artists' seals
(H x W)
Ôban triptych nishiki-e
37.5 x 25.8 cm
Excellent impression
Excellent color; Good condition (unbacked; 8 binding holes per sheet; minor rubbing on one lower corner per sheet; (R) tiny moisture spot on lower edge of Utaemon's left sleeve; small rubbed area lower right corner below Toshin seal; (C) small rubbed area lower left corner, light crease center right; slight discoloration of purple obi at left margin; (L) small rubbed area lower right corner; two discolored spots, one near Ebijuro's left sleeve, the other above his nightstick (called a jutte).
Price (USD/¥):
SOLD (Ref #HKS10)

This play was a big hit (ôatari) and proved to be a popular subject for a number of artists. Hokushû produced the design above (plus at least two more compositions), while others depicting scenes from this production included his pupils Shunchô and Shunsho (later Shun'yô), as well as the artist Yoshikuni and his pupils Mitsukuni and Hikokuni. Ôishizuri sakura tanzaku (大西摺桜花短冊) may be translated as "Oishi's stone rubbing, a poem card, and cherry blossoms." Although the plot remains unknown, some role names (such as the virtuous wives Oishi and Osono, or Okaru's brother, Teraoka Heiemon) inscribed on prints produced by these artists suggest that the plot was adapted from the most famous of all revenge plays, Kanadehon chûshingura (Copybook of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers).


Breaking with convention, Hokushû designed each sheet with a different bold background pattern. The far left grid represents a repeat pattern of the three-rice measures (mimasu) for the crest of the Ichikawa acting family. The middle and left sheets also have an encircled character at the bottom edge for middle (chû) and left (sa), respectively, denoting the position of the sheets in the triptych.

The poems (kyôka) all claim that not only was the production a success, but each actor was heralded for his performance.

The first verse (on the right sheet) is signed "Shiyû" and reads, Oiri o / totta to tachimi/ shikan yori / hoka e hiiki wa / metta ni yaran zo ("A smashing success! / Only standing room, / nobody but Shikan, / never support / another!").* Shikan was Utaemon's poetry name (haimyô). The character for "Yo" is written on Yogorô's blue robe.

The middle verse, written by the artist Umekuni, reads, Ryôha no / tachi-e no ume ni / uguisu no / sono sankô o / hikanu no wa nashi ("On either side / a plum branch, / in the middle a song thrush, / who would not be / charmed?").* Sankô was the haimyô of the onnagata Nakamura Tomijûrô II.

The left poem, signed Tantorô, reads, Hyôban o / totta to date no / tatemono wa / ge ni senryô no / shinshô zo yoshi ("Great reviews! / this dandy star, / truly he is / Shinshô worth / a thousand coins").* The coins refer to the high salary paid only to superstar actors such as Shinshô (the haimyô for Ebijûrô).

Note: Another (partly faded) impression of this design is featured in the 2005-06 exhibition and catalogue "Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage, 1780-1830" at the British Museum, Osaka Museum of History, and Waseda University Theatre Museum.

References: IKBYS-I, no. 122; IKB-I, no. 2-379; KNP-6, p. 87; KHO, no. 225* [English translation of all 3 poems]