Suda no haru geiko katagi (A geisha's temperament and her client: 隅田春妓客性) was written by Namiki Gohei I (1747-1808) and premiered in Edo, 1/1796. It was based on an actual murder in Osaka in 1689 when a man named Yoshibei killed a clerk named Chôkichi. In the play, Yoshibei, an otokodate (lit., "standing man" or chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作, a street fighter often mythologized as a hero to the downtrodden in Edo-period urban Japan), has sworn to protect a Chiba samurai named Kingorô and his young wife Kosan, daughter of Mishima Hayato. Yoshibei is a volatile sort who has taken to wearing a purple zukin (head cloth: 頭巾) as a reminder to control his temper. A precious poem card belonging to the Hayoto clan has been stolen and Yoshibei searches for it in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, where Kosan has indentured herself as a geisha. Yoshibei decides to ransom her for Kingorô and so his wife, Okun, asks her brother Chôkichi, a rice broker, for the money. When Chôkichi is assaulted by a robber along the Ô River, Yoshibei chases the thief away. It is very dark and Yoshibei and Chôkichi do not recognize one another. Yoshibei then asks to borrow the money Chôkichi is carrying, not realizing it was intended for him to pay off Kosan's ransom. When Chôkichi refuses, the enraged Yoshibei kills him, using the zukin in an ironic (and literal) twist of purpose.
Schwaab, in is book Osaka Prints (reference below), rightly points out the "dazzling yellow-and-white ground pattern" that includes the mimasu (triple rice-measuring boxes: 三舛). Also worthy of praise is Ebijûrô II's black robe decorated with brown and blue birds in flight.
The poem on the left is signed with the actor's haimyô (poetry name: 俳名), nidaime Shinshô (Shinshô II: 二代目新折).
Provenance: This impression is from the Haber Collection, illustrated in Schwaab (Osaka Prints, 1989, no. 120). Prints from this collection are admired for their fine color preservation, and often for their rarity, as with this design.
References: OSP, p. 133, no. 120 (this same impression)