Kunihiro's print, titled Setsu (snow: 雪) is one subject within a category called setsugekka (sun, moon, flowers: 雪月花), a frequently encountered theme in Japanese art and literature. Setsugekka represent an aesthetic embodiment of the Japanese view of nature and the belief in its everlasting beauty. Aspects of
the changing seasons are presented in scenes featuring snow (suggesting not only the winter season but also a prelude to rebirth),
the moon (symbolizing a year-round constant), and flowers (recalling the four seasons as well as the cycle of life). Designs for setsugekka were very popular in ukiyo-e prints and paintings.
Iwai Shijaku performs in a play that has not yet been identified for the kabuki staging at the Kado in 4/1832. We know that a design for the theme of "Moon" (Tsuki: 月) has also been documented, with Shijaku performing as a courtesan. Possibly, these roles were part of a secondary play, interlude, or dance on the program with Shijaku in all three setsugekka roles. Here, the woman holds a takifugu (lit. "river pig," or fugu: 河豚 or 鰒), a pufferfish that, due to a similar pronunciation, is sometimes associated with fuku (good luck: 福), hence her description as an isami onna (cheerful woman: いさみおんあ). Fugu can be highly toxic if not carefully prepared, but it is considered a delicacy in Japan.
The inscription at the far right reads Shidaime Hanshirô tsuifuku kyôgen (Memorial performance for Hanshirô IV: 四代目半四郎追福狂言). In this performance, Iwai Shijaku I (1804-1845) pays homage to an illustrious predecessor, the Edo superstar Hanshirô IV (1747-1800), son of the puppeteer Tatsumatsu Jûzaburô, who made his acting debut in 1753. Hanshirô IV was one of kabuki's most celebrated onnagata (lit., women's manner: 女方 or 女形). By 1783 in Edo, his rank in hyôbanki (evaluation books: 評判記) was jô-jô-kichi (superior - superior - excellent) for waka-onnagata (young women roles: 若女方). He received the same ranking in January 1785 just after he temporarily relocated to Osaka. Back in Edo by late 1786, his ranking rose not long after (1789) to goku-jô-jô-kichi (extreme - superior - superior - excellent). He visited Osaka briefly for the second and last time at the start of 1796, acting in several plays and achieving great success in a seven-dance production called Nanaeginu Azuma Hinagata.
The names of the artisans appear in a double cartouche nearest Shijaku's foot: the block cutter hori Kuma (ホり熊) and the printer suri Nao (スリ直).
This impression is an early, fine example of this design.
References: IKBYS-2, no. 64