There are many variations on the tale of Yaoya Oshichi the greengrocer's daughter, first inspired by actual events in 1681-82. These adaptations are grouped under Oshichi Kichsa mono (pieces about Oshichi and Kichisa: おしち吉三物). She was the subject of utazaimon (ballads), novels, puppet plays (the first possibly in 1704) and kabuki productions (the first in 1706 in Osaka). One of the best known retellings was written by Ihara Saikaku (1642-93: 井原西鶴) not long after the incident; he included it in his Koshoku gonin onna (Five women who loved love: 好色五人女) in 1685.
In an early, apparently semi-historical account from the Tenna shôishû (Collection of amusing trifles, circa 1684-88), which describes a disastrous fire on the twenty-eighth day of the eleventh month of 1681 at the Daien Temple in Komagome, Edo, which spread to the Hongo district. Oshichi's family took refuge at the Shôsen-in temple, where she fell in love with a temple page named Ikuta Shônosuke. (It was common for citizens fleeing a fire to seek safety in the grounds of the large temples.) When the family house was rebuilt, Oshichi was forced to return home, and soon after, on the second day of the third month of 1682, she burned the house, hoping to move again to the temple and reunite with her lover. She was arrested and paraded around Edo with five other arsonists on the eighteenth day, and burned at the stake two days later. Shônosuke entered one of the monasteries of Mt. Koya the following month. (Penalties for arson were severe due to the incendiary nature of the city's wood-frame structures and the government's ever-present fears about social disorder. Warnings were posted everywhere, particularly hi no yojin, "Be careful with fire.")
In one partly fictionalized version, Oshichi, the daughter of a prosperous grocer, and her family were forced to move to a remote Edo district, Sashigaya, after their home in Hongo Komagome burnt down in one of the city's frequent fires. There, Oshichi fell in love with a young man named Sahei. Unfortunately, a disreputable character called Kichisaburô persuaded the gullible girl that if her house burnt down again, her family would be evacuated to Enjoji, where she could reunite with Sahei, so she set fire to her home, and much of the city was destroyed. In 1682, the authorities punished the 17-year-old Oshichi as an adult (minors were 15 years and under) by burning her at the stake at the execution grounds in Suzuga-mori.
In some later dramatizations, Sahei and Kichisaburô are conflated into one character, Kichisaburô, who is the son of a rônin and a young temple acolyte. He falls in love with Oshichi, and she with him, but Oshichi is pursued by a villain named Kamaya Buhei who manages to have her betrothed to him in exchange for money he has loaned the family to rebuild their home. Fearful that she will lose Kichisaburô to the unwanted marriage, she sets fire to her home and suffers the same fate as described in the earlier version.
Onoe Baikô III ((三代目尾上梅幸) was the haigô (poetry name: 俳号) and a previous stage name used for one season (11/1814 to 11/1815) by the Edo-based actor Onoe Kikugorô III (三代目 尾上菊五郎), one of the greatest kaneru yakusha (all-around actors: 兼ねる役者) in kabuki history. His kabuki rivalry with Ichikawa Danjûrô VII (1791-1859) pitched the fans of both actors into spirited competitions, each coterie claiming that its hero was the greatest actor of his generation. Meanwhile, his alliance with the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV (1755 - 1829) resulted in the best known of kabuki's kaidan mono (ghost plays: 怪談物), when in 7/1825 Kikugorô premiered the role of Oiwa in Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan (Tôkaidô ghost story at Yotsuya: 東海道四谷怪談).
The key to the context for this design is provided by two characters in the inscription, reading nobori ("going up": 上り) and referring to nobori yakusha (登役者), "actors going-up [to the capital]," that is, Edo actors on tour in Osaka. Kikugorô III (Baikô III) performed in Osaka four times during his career; this print commemorates his second visit (11/1825 to 4/1826).
Okada (a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its recent dispersal ― a blockbuster event in the world of kamigata-e; featured in Kuroda Genji's 1929 Kamigata-e ichiran, Review of Kamigata Pictures ... see KAM below)
References: KNZ, no. 364; KAM, no. 66