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Archive: Hokushû (北洲)

(R) Sawamura Kunitarô II as Shinkurô tsuma (Shinkurô's wife) Shigarami; (M) Nakamura Karoku I as Shokurô tsuma (Shokurô's wife) Kochô; (L) Fujikawa Tomikichi II as Katsugen tsuma (Katsugen's wife) Nagisa in Keisei ômonguchi, Kado Theater, Osaka
Shunkôsai Hokushû ga
Artist's seal: Hokushû
Toshin (Toshikuraya Shinbei)
(H x W)
Ôban triptych nishiki-e
37.0 x 77.7 cm
Good impression
Very good color; Good condition (unbacked; very slight soil and creasing; a few small stray marks; album binding holes along adjacent vertical edges of M and L sheets; R sheet very slightly trimmed L vertical edge; some discoloration and rubbing in lower L corners on R and L sheets, R corner on M sheet; moisture spotting lower edge of Kunitarô's robe)
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Keisei ômonguchi (Courtesans at the great gate of the pleasure quarter: けいせい廓大門) was based on Namiki Sôsuke's Ômonguchi yoroigasane first performed in 12/1743. In that version, Shokurô plots to avenge the death of his father at the hands of Shinkurô. The Keisei adaptation was meant, in part, to feature the female characters. The design shown here highlights one of the memorable scenes when the three onnagata (lit., "woman's manner," male actors in female roles: 女方 or 女形) confront one another in the darkness.


In Hokushû's dramatic night scene — one of his finest triptychs — Nagisa and Shigarami flank their enemy, Kochô, who turns her face away from the bright light of Nagisa's lantern (andon). Their encounter, a combination of dance and choreographed fighting (tachimawari), featured the onnagata's skills in martial arts as the loyal women carried on the conflict engendered by their husbands. A kabuki critique published the year after the 1823 Kado Theater production praised the actors and their performances in this scene.

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. 141; KNZ, no. 199; OSP, no. 64; KHO, no. 256; IKB-I, no. 1-422; KNP-6, p. 96