The title Ume no haru gojûsan tsuji (Plums in spring and the fifty-three stations: 梅初春五十三駅) embeds a reference to the fifty-three post stations along the Tôkaidô road connecting Edo with Kyoto, a popular theme for landscape prints, especially those of the Edo artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). The journey indicated in Kunimasu's design, however, is one that the actor Hashizô (Onoe Kikugorô III: 1784-1849) undertook in 1849 (see discussion below).
Onoe Kikugorô III was one of the greatest kaneru yakusha (all-around actors: 兼ねる役者) in kabuki history. His stage 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, while 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).
After the actor's last performance, which took place 1/1849 at the Kado no Shibai, he left Osaka for a trip along the Tôkaidô, setting off for Edo. In Kunimasu's print he is depicted as Shimizu Yoshitaka (清水義高) in a mitate-e (analog picture, i.e., not directly associated with a specific performance: 見立), a role likely selected because the title of the play includes a reference to the famous road journey and to his role of Oiwa in the aforementioned Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan, and because the word ume (plum: 梅) is also pronounced bai, thus punning on and referring to Baikô, which is both the actor's haigô (literary or poetry name: 俳号) and one of his stage names (Baikô III). During his Tôkaidô journey Hashizô fell ill and died on the 24th day of the fourth month at Kakegawa on the Tôkaidô.
This shini-e (death print: 死絵) is titled Hakkei no uchi (Set of eight views: 八景ノ内), a reference to Ômi hakkei (Eight views of Lake Ômi: 近江八景), traditional eight views to the southwest of Lake Biwa in the province of Ômi, said to have been so designated by the former regent Konoe in 1500. The Japanese views were inspired by the Chinese "Eight Views of Xiaoxiang" (Xiaoxiang Bajing) in Hunan province. The subtitle of Kunimasu's print identifies one of these famous views, Mii, 三井 (Mii[dera] no banshô, Evening Bell at Mii [Temple]: 三井[寺]ノ晩鐘).
As symbols of the actor's death, four yô (lotus flowers: 蓉) can be seen on Hashizô's robes (perhaps intended to be numerologically consonant with his death in the fourth month).
Although there is some wear on the gold-colored metallic in the actor's name, the "gold" on his undergarment is beautifully preserved.
References: IKBYS-III, no. 152