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Archive: Isshûsai KUNIKAZU (一珠齋國員)

(1R) Ichikawa Ebijûrô IV as Saeda Masaemon; (2R) Jitsukawa Ensaburô I as Kobuna Gengorô; (3R) Onoe Tamizô II as Ishikawa Goemon; (4R) Arashi Kichisaburô III as Saitô Kuranosuke; (5R) Bandô Hikasaburô V as Kano Shirôjirô in Keisei setsugekka; Naka Theater, Osaka
Kunikazu (on bottom left sheet only)
No artist seal
No publisher's seal
(H x W)
Chûban pentaptych nishiki-e
24.5 x 87.9 cm
Excellent deluxe printing with furikake ("sprinkling" or application of powdered metallics: 振掛)
Excellent color, very good condition (sheets joined with backing paper, slight creasing of lower right corner of 1R sheet and lower left corner of 5R sheet
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry (Ref #KKZ12)


The play Keisei setsugekka (Courtesan: Sun, moon, and flowers: けいせい雪月花) premiered at the Kado Theater at the New Year in 1830. It was written by the superstar actor Nakamura Utaemon III under his penname Kanazawa Ryûgoku. Later, just one act (called Kari no tayori) was taken from the whole and performed as a light-hearted piece without the drama featured in the larger play. It is this extracted piece that is mostly known today.

Tamizô II portrays the infamous bandit Ishikawa Goemon (石川五右衛門 1558 – 10/8/1594)) in one of the many tales about this legendary rônin (lit., "wave man" or masterless samurai: 浪人). In real life, Goemon, at the age of sixteen, murdered three men during a robbery. He was finally captured many years later in 1594, when the shogun Hideyoshi had him boiled in oil. The Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川五右衛門物) endowed the outlaw with supernatural powers and devilish abilities to disguise himself, which provided playwrights with opportunities for fantastical action — often aided by clever stagecraft — and surprising plot twists.


This is another brilliant effort from the brush of Kunikazu as realized by the block carvers and printers. The use of metallics is especially fine here. Note the stunning shishi (lion: 獅子) rendered in faux gold and actual copper on Kichisaburô's upper robe. Capable of walking on earth, moving through fire, and riding on clouds, but unable to live under water, mythical shishi (karashishi) were subordinate to dragons in the panolpy of legendary beasts in Japanese folklore.

References: IKBYS-IV, no. 578