Ono no Tôfû aoyagi suzuri (Ono no Tôfû, the inkstone, and the green willow tree: 小野道風青柳硯) offers a fanciful retelling of events involving the legendary calligrapher Ono no Tôfû [Michikaze] (894-966: 小野の道風) during the reign of the Emperor Yôzei (868-944). The historical Tôfû, grandson of a courtier-poet, Ono no Takamura, was a government official, poet, and calligrapher. In the latter capacity, he served three emperors and is considered one of the Sanseki (Three Brush Traces: 三跡), Japan's three greatest calligraphers. In Japanese legend and art, Tôfû is particularly well known as the figure who takes inspiration from a frog who attempted seven times to leap from a pond to an overhanging willow branch until finally reaching his perch on his eighth attempt. Likewise, Tôfû had tried seven times to win a higher post in the imperial court, and so he took the frog's perseverence as a sign that he, too, should try yet another time, for which he was rewarded.
The play was written by Takdea Izumo I, Chikamatsu Hanji, Miyoshi Shôraku, and three others as a ningyô jôruri (puppet play: 人形淨瑠璃) premiering in 1754 at the Takemoto no shibai in Osaka. With a mischievious twist, the dramatization depicts Tôfû as an illiterate carpenter reared as a commoner (the result of a crime committed by his father, an exiled imperial councilor). Tôfû works at the imperial palace, where he is promoted to courtier. A enemy of the emperor, Tachibana Hayanari, plots to take over the country. One day, Tôfû observes frogs leaping among willow branches in a temple pond, which he interprets as a sign that the emperor is in danger from Hayanari. When Dotsoku no Daroku, an ally of Hayanari's, attempts to recruit Tôfû into the conspiracy, Tôfû pretends to accept after the two fight and Tôfû tosses Daroku into the pond. When Tôfû is asked to sign a written affirmation of his loyalty to the planned usurpation of the throne, the illiterate Tôfû is able to do so only through a miracle initiated by his nurse Horinni, who sacrifices herself and dips a brush in her blood. In the end, Tôfû and his allies (including Daroku, who switches sides and helps to hide the emperor) defeat Hayanari and his co-conspirators.
The use of the acting name Arashi Tokusaburô III (三代目 嵐徳三郎) had a complex "switch-back" history. The actor Arashi Rikan III (三代目 嵐璃寛 1812-1863) held the name from the 1st lunar month of 1831 to 10/1834, from 1/1835 to 3/1835, then 1/1836 to 10/1839, and 1/1840 to 3/1841, and finally from 8/1841 to 10/1843. During the periods when he wasn't acting as Tokusaburô III, he used the name Arashi Kicchô I (一代目 嵐橘蝶). After all this, he became Arashi Rikan III in 11/1843, the stage name he held consistently for two decades until his death in 4/1863.
Arashi Tokusaburô III, costumed as the courtier/poet Ono no Tôfû, stands by a pond as he watches the indefatigable green frog leaping up toward the hanging willow branch (the frog blends in with the leaves of the lowermost branch in Sadamasu's print). Tokusaburô's janôme-gasa (snake's-eye umbrella: 蛇の目傘) is on the ground behind him.
Our impression of Sadamasu's fine deluxe design is well preserved in color and further offers a large intact margin along the top.
Note on Margins in Ukiyo-e: In this impression, the green color block for the tree branches extends higher up at the top than the gray background color block. This is very commonly seen in ukiyo-e when margins remain intact (which is true only in a small minority of surviving impressions), as, presumably, ukiyo-e publishers intended to trim into the images, which is nearly always the case when compositions do not include surrounding decorative borders. Even then, margins are often slightly or entirely trimmed in extant impressions of most designs. However, the lack of uniformity with the edges of different color blocks in a given impression is not considered a fault and it is certainly desirable to have the margins remain intact.
WAS-IV, p. 121, no, 602; Sadamasu website (van Doesburg), no. 36