Ushiwakamaru was the childhood name of the legendary Genji general Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-89). Kumasaka Chôhan was a notorious bandit whose
exploits have been popularized for centuries in the folk tales and legends of Japan. Most famous were his attacks against travellers in the Province of Mino,
where there was a pine tree approximately 20 meters high from which it was possible to spy upon the unsuspecting and rob them of their luggage and valuables.
One day Kumasaka's outlaw band attacked Ushiwakamaru — a lad of sixteen who had run away from the temple where he was being educated and was traveling
with a merchant's retinue. He soundly defeated the thugs, displaying astonishing swordsmanship and slaying thirteen. When Chôhan attempted to dispatch
the youth himself, he failed, suffering many wounds as Ushiwakamaru danced and leapt about, easily parrying the blows from his adversary. This legend became
the subject of a Nô drama entitled Kumasaka, as well as a popular subject in songs, dances, and kabuki dramas.
Ushiwakamaru and Chôhan are depicted as they prepare for combat. In keeping with his age and former lodging in a temple, his hair is styled in
a chigo-mage (page's chignon). The naginata (halberd) held by Chôhan forms an effective graphic element running diagonally across
the left of the sheet.
Arashi Kichisaburô II (1769-1821; haimyô Rikan I) was a superstar of the Osaka stage and the chief rival of Nakamura Utaemon III. A brief inscription reads Arashi Rikan atari kyôgen (Arashi Rikan's big-hit play). The unsigned poem mentions the tachibana (mandarin orange), Kichisaburô's crest, and its delightful fragrance in Kyoto and Osaka (that is, the actor thrilling his fans in the Kamigata theaters).
Prints from the early period of Osaka printmaking are difficult to find with well-preserved color, as in this impression.
Note: Another 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. 58; KHO, no. 133; IKB-I, 2-351; KNP-6, p. 6