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Archive: Hokushû (北洲)

Ichikawa Ebijûrô I as Tôken Jûbei in Benimurasaki ai de someage, Kado Theater, Osaka
Shunkôsai Hokushû ga
No publisher seals
8/1816 (published c. 1822)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.5 x 25.5 cm
Very good
Good overall condition (unbacked; rather faded, rubbed and soiled)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: (Ref #HKS36)


Benimurasaki ai de someage (紅紫大坂潤) included the role of Tôken ["China Dog"] Jûbei, an otokodate (lit., "standing man" or chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) who was an ally of one of the most notorious otokodate, Banzuin Chôbei (who was as well a confederate of the outlaw Shirai Gonpachi).


This design is from a celebrated series of ôkubi-e (large head portraits: 大首絵) with yellow backgrounds were issued circa 1922. Although issued in the spring of 1922, it actually depicts a performance given by Ebijûrô I six years before in 8/1816. There are at least five states of this memorable design with varying combinations of inscribed names and an edition of crepe prints (chirimen-gami-e: 縮緬紙絵). The present impression appears to be the third state, printed on a yellow ground, and omitting the block cutter Kasuke's seal, actor's name, and role.

The poem, signed by Hôrai Sanjin, has been translated by the scholar Roger Keyes as, "Even the Goddess of Spring might be tempted / the Prawn of the Island of the Immortals / Is the greatest actor of the spring."* As is so often the case with Japanese poetry, this verse includes puns. The poet's name Hôrai (宝来) was a homonym for the name of the mountain where the immortals resided (Hôrai: 蓬莱), called Mount Penglai in Chinese. The "prawn" is an "ebi," the first character of the actor's given name.

References: IKB-I, no. 1-384; WAS-4, no. 155; IKBYS-I, no. 111; KNZ, no. 141; OSP, no. 39; TWOP, no. 21* [English translation]