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Archive: Utagawa Kunisada I (歌川國貞); later called Toyokuni III (豊國)

(R) Ichikawa Kodanji IV (四代目市川小団次) as Ariômaru (有王丸); (L) Kawarazaki Gonjûrô I (一代目河原崎権十郎) as Kameômaru (亀王丸) in Hime komatsu ne no hi no asobi, theater and performance unknown, Edo; Print Title: Jidai sewa atari sugatami
Gototei Kunisada ga (五渡亭国貞画 )
Date/Censor Seal: 未五改 改印 (combined date and aratame, "examined")
Shitaya Uoei (下谷魚榮) = Sakanaya Eikichi
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e diptych
36.7 x 50.2 cm
Excellent color and very good condition (never backed; one pinhole in right sheet and one tiny filled wormhole in left margin of left sheet; very light wrinkling and one faint crease)
Price (USD/¥):

The play Hime komatsu ne no hi no asobi (Outing to pick pine seedlings on the Rat Day of the New Year: 姫小松子日遊) features a theatrical adaptation of the true story of Shunkan (俊寛, 1143-79), a Shingon (真言) priest, head of the Hôshô Temple in Kyoto, and ally of the retired Emperor Goshirakawa (後白河 ruled 1155-58) who in 1177 plotted against Taira no Kiyomori (平清盛 1118-81), who ruled from the Shishigatani (鹿が谷) villa. Shunkan and other co-conspirator's were exiled to the island of Kikaigashima (鬼界が島); soon after, all but Shunkan were pardoned, while the priest was left to die. In the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike: 平家物語), c. 1220, a disciple of Shunkan's named Ariô (有王) travels to Kikaigashima after hearing that Shunkan would not be pardoned. Finding Shunkan in a ravaged and destitute condition staggering along the beach, Ariô takes Shunkan back to his grass shack where the old priest dies.

There were other bunraku (puppet plays: 文楽) and kabuki adaptations of this tale, with greater complexity and notable differences in the plot. In kabuki's Hime komatsu, for example, Shunkan escapes the island on a secret mission to guard the emperor's concubine Kogô No Tsubone, who is about to give birth to a royal heir. In kabuki's Hime komatsu, Ariô appears to have morphed into the character Ariômaru who engages in a skirmish with Kameômaru.


The print is titled Jidai sewa atari sugatami (Full-length mirror of a hit from the present day: 時代世話当姿見).

Kunisada's print depicts an exciting moment in the play when the protagonists Ariômaru and Kameômaru, illuminated by flaming torches while suspended precariously in large baskets over a mountain crevice, perform a choreographed sword fight. This was a popular scene in both Edo and Osaka stage productions, a spectacle sure to thrill audiences as they gawked at the actors hoisted above the stage.

There are impressions of this diptych in the Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum.