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Kunihiro (國廣)

Nakamura Karoku I (中村歌六) introducing himself to the audience on the occasion of his Edo nobori (江戸登り) or relocating to perform in Edo
Kunihiro ga (國廣画)
Artist seal: Kunihiro (國廣)
Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei: 天満屋喜兵衞)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.5 x 26.1 cm
Excellent color, unbacked; flattened album crease along left edge, thin repaired area UR margin and small filled wormhole to left of sword hilt.
Price (USD/¥):
$490 / Contact us to pay in yen (¥)

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Nakamura Karoku I (1779-1859) was a fine onnagata (specialist in female roles: 女方 or 女形) who excelled in keisei (courtesan / prostitute roles: 傾城 or 契情) roles and was therefore nicknamed "Keisei Karoku." Zoë Kincaid included an amusing anecdote in her book on kabuki (see ref. below): "Nakamura Karoku, another onnagata of distinction, was the son of a clerk connected with the Mitsui Company in Osaka.... He was a large, handsome man, and had blood relations with many actor families. His first wife died; he married a second half his age, and had altogether twelve children. One daughter married the third [actor using the name] Arashi Rikan, another became the wife of Ichikawa Kodanji, while a third was the wife of Kataoka Nizaemon, the eighth. He had a habit of coughing when crossing a bridge near his home to let his household know of his approach, and was considered very extravagant because there were always two candles burning at the entrance to his house that a bright welcome should be waiting him when he returned from the theatre."

In the fall of 1827, Karoku left Osaka to perform in Edo. The following year, in the tenth lunar month, the kabuki world was targeted by the authorities, who implemented sumptuary laws against extravagance. Consequently, Karoku and other actors were punished for their ostentatious lifestyles. Karoku was placed briefly under house arrest in a shop located in the district of Kobiki-chô. Nevertheless by the eleventh month, he was once again performing at the Kawarasaki-za in Edo.

Karoku I performed in Edo for the last time in 4/1832. He then returned to Osaka, making what was called a nobori yakusha ("Actor going-up [to the capital]": 登役者), that is, Osaka actors returning to their home city, or Edo actors going on tour in Osaka. The term Edo nobori ("Going up to the capital from Edo": 江戸のぼり) was also used. Although the capital during the Tokugawa period was Kyoto, in the context of kabuki performance, it referred to Kamigata generally and Osaka specifically.


Karoku I wears the conventional ceremonial gear for a kôjô (opening words or introduction: 口上), as well as a murasaki-bôshi (purple cap: 紫帽子), a silk headcloth used by onnagata to cover the shaved forelock. He bows before the audience and thanks them for their support after his long absence from Osaka. He will perform at the Kado Theater, Osaka, once again in the eighth lunar month.

The colors on this impression are beautifully preserved, making this a particularly desirable example of a kôjô design.

The complete text in Japanese is as follows:

残暑之砌 御町中御贔屓様方いよ#御機嫌よろしく御入らせ被遊 数ならぬ私迄も嬉敷存奉り升 随ひ升て私義先年江戸表へ罷下り升たる処 彼地にても御蔭を以て評判宜敷相勤升たる段 全く御当地御ひゐき厚キお余光と是のみ有難く 早速罷帰り御礼も申上度 かつは故郷なつかしきの余り 此度久々にて罷登升たる所 師匠梅玉も兎やかく心配致され 取あへず角の芝居盆替りの一座の上にくわゝり出勤仕べくようお進に随ひ有難き御目見へをつかまつり升段 いか斗か有がたき仕合にぞんじ奉り升 初日も出候はゝ何卒前々に不相変御ひいきの程ひとへに希願ひ上奉り升」

Approximate translation: "In the late summer season, dear patrons of the town, I bid you a hearty welcome. Please allow me to entertain you. I am overjoyed, just like the rest of you, and I am truly grateful for your continued patronage. Last year [1831], I had the privilege of performing in Edo, and it was all thanks to your support that my reputation spread even there. Your kindness and warm reception have deeply touched me, and now I am here to express my gratitude once more. Returning to my hometown after such a long time fills me with nostalgia.

"On this occasion, I have come back after a considerable hiatus [late 1827 until summer 1832], and my master, Baigyoku (梅玉 literary name of Nakamura Utaemon III], has also expressed his concern. Without further ado, I am ready to perform and contribute to the stage. I will do my best to join the troupe performing the new rotation of plays, even though it is an early start. On the first day, I hope for your unwavering favor and support, just as you have shown in the past. Thank you very much for your continued kindness and support."

References: IKBYS-II, no. 65; Zoë Kinkaid: Kabuki: The Popular Stage of Japan. Macmillan Co., 1925, p. 142.