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Archive: Hokushû (北洲)

Sawamura Tanosuke II as Yakko ["bannerman"] no Koman in Sugata kurabe deiri no minato, Kado Theater, Osaka
Shunkôsai ga
No artist seal
Shiochô (Shioya Chôbei)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
Good impression (deluxe edition with metallics)
Very good color; Good condition (Slight soil; right edge uneven)
Price (USD/¥):
Sold (Ref #HKS23)

Premiering in 1748, the play was written by Nimiki Jôsuke and others for the ningyô jôruri (puppet theater). Adapted from various puppet and kabuki productions about Kurofune Chûemon, head of a gang of otokodate (chivalrous commoners), Sugata kurabe deiri no minato first introduced the character of Yakko no Koman, a celebrated female otokodate. Inspired by actual events during the first half of the seventeenth century, the present drama features clashes between two gangs of otokodate, one led by Chûemon, the other by Gokumon Shôbei. Koman's father wants her to marry, against her wishes, an ally of Chûemon's named Gorohachi, but he is in love with the courtesan Takigawa. Shôbei, in turn, is also infatuated with Takigawa. When she escapes from the pleasure quarter to see Gorohachi, who is hiding in Chûemon's house, Shôbei follows her and confronts Chûemon. Shôbi then attacks Chûemon and kills him.

The real-life Yakko no Koman is said to have been named Miyoshi Oyuki. She never married, reputedly because she did not want to risk a fate like her mother's — forced to serve Koman's father as a mere maid after he had redeemed a courtesan, married her, and took her into his home. Koman apparently emulated the lifestyle of otokodate, but she was also accomplished in poetry, painting, and calligraphy. The writer Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848) recorded in a diary that he once met Koman when she was in her seventies and was impressed by her erudition.


Koman plays an end-blown wooden flute (shakuhachi) often associated with mendicant monks (komuso) of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism, but also a common accoutrement among otokodate. Typically it was not thought proper for a woman to play the shakuhachi, ostensibly because of its phallic shape. In fact, by at least the mid-nineteenth century the expression "playing the shakuhachi" meant fellatio. Across the middle of Koman's robe there are three symbols (right to left): a sickle (kama), a partly visible circle (wa), and the hiragana character for nu, combining to make a rebus for kamawanu, meaning "It doesn't matter." It was a popular and mildly irreverant expression during the Edo period, and a common textile design pattern. Higher up on the robe is the character man (ten thousand), also the last part of Koman's name.

Prints from the early period of Hokushû's career are difficult to acquire, especially in good condition, as here. The only other recorded impression in the standard literature is a faded specimen from an edition of crepe prints (chirimen-gami-e, literally "compressed-thread-paper prints") — see WAS reference below.

References: WAS I-4, no. 4-083; IKB-1, no. 1-376; KNP-5, p. 558