The plot from Somemoyô Naniwa miyage (A dyed-pattern gift from Osaka [?]: 染模様難波土産) is unknown to us.
This design is titled Nanabake no uchi (Set of seven changes: 七変化), a grouping of hayagawari (quick-change techniques: 早替り) from the theatrical genre known as henge-mono (transformation pieces: 変化物) perfromed by a single actor, and thus a tour-de-force in kabuki productions. Kunihiro's portrait depicts Bandô Mitsugirô III in all seven of the characters, with three sheets doubling up on the roles (portraying the same actor in two or more roles on a single sheet was a common practice in ukiyo-e print design).
Each sheet is inscribed at the middle left or right with shibaizoku (四枚続), "a series of four," meaning here that the seven dances are depicted on four
Shirabyôshi (白拍子) literally means "white rhythm," a name for a professional dancer-courtesan or itinerant prostitute of
the late Heian period to the sixteenth century who often worked among the upper classes by presenting a dance in a masculine costume of court
robes and hat. The women danced to strongly accented music and sang erotic songs. In ukiyo-e prints and paintings one conventional
image (possibly derived from paintings by Hanabusa Itchô) was a shirabyôshi wearing a tall lacquered eboshi (lit., "bird hat," court hat: 烏帽子), a ko-tsuzumi (hand drum: 小鼓) at her feet, as she sits in a bune (boat: 船) under a willow tree, waiting for customers
at an inlet on Lake Biwa called Asazuma. Mitsugorô III introduced and had one of his greatest triumphs in a dance called Asazuma bune (Asazuma in a boat: 浅妻船) in 9/1820 at the Nakamura-za, Edo, just before he traveled to perform in Osaka in late 1820 (accompanied by Matsumoto Kôshirô V
and Iwai Hanshirô V, as well as the Edo artist Utagawa Kunisada; the three actors were engaged to showcase Edo-style acting in Kamigata).
Ukareme, when written as うかれ娼 (floating or frivolous women), signifies non-professional women who turned to offering sex for profit during the Nara period (710-784). When the last character is changed from shô (娼 meaning "prostitute") to yakko (奴 meaning "servant" or "footman"), the term means "gay servant," as in Kunihiro's design.
The preservation of the yellow background on all four sheets is very good. Acquisition of the entire set of Kunihiro's Somemoyô Naniwa miyage is quite difficult, so we are pleased to be able to offer it here.
Note: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has a second edition impression from 9/1827 of the far-right sheet with crests in the yellow ground behind Sakuragidayû (Acc. No. 11.36039).
References: IKBYS-II, p. 14, no. 15