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Archive: Utagawa Kunisada I (歌川國貞); later called Toyokuni III (三代 豊國)

(1R) (Ichimura Uzaemon XII (市村羽左衛門) as Honjô Sukehachi (本庄助八); (2R) Iwai Tojaku I (岩井杜若) as Shirai Gonpachi (白井権八); (3R) Sawamura Tosshô (沢村訥升) as Teranishi Kanshin (寺西閑心) in Gohiiki tamuke no hanakawado (御摂手向花川戸), Ichimura-za (市村座), Edo
Gototei Kunisada ga (五渡亭國貞画)
No artist seal; Censor Seal: kiwame (極印) meaning "approved"
Eikichi (Ezakiya Kichibei)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki
38.3 x 79.0 cm
Excellent color and very good condition, unbacked; very minor edge repairs on C and L sheet
Price (USD/¥):

Gohiiki tamuke no hanakawado (御摂手向花川戸) was the second drama on the program with the main feature, Koi no nada nebiki no tomozuna (恋灘根曳纜). The plot of Gohiiki tamuke no hanakawado is unknown to us, but it would certainly fall within the orbit of the very popular Gonpachi Komurasaki mono (plays about Gonpachi and Komurasaki: 権八小紫物) whose genesis lies in actual events involving unrelated historical figures. The samurai Shirai Gonpachi (白井権八) from Tottori province, guilty of murder and robbery, was executed in 1679. The second figure was the legendary otokodate (lit., standing man, i.e., chivalrous commoner: 男伊達 or 男作) Banzuin Chôbei (幡随長兵衛), ca. 1622-1657, said to have been killed by Mizuno Jûrozaemon, a leader of hatamoto-yakko (bannermen foot soldiers: 旗本奴). One theatrical adaptation, Hiyokumon kuruwano nishiki-e (Brocade picture of lovers' crests in the pleasure quarter: 双紋廓錦絵) features Gonpachi, famous for his good looks, bravery, and swordsmanship, who kills a fellow samurai and flees to Edo. There, at an inn, he is warned by a 15-year-old beauty named Komurasaki (小紫) that the owner is a gang leader plotting to murder him for his sword. Gonpachi swiftly kills all ten of the gang. Afterwards he visits the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter and finds Komurasaki at the Miuraya brothel, now a prostitute selling herself to earn money for her destitute parents. Without the funds to ransom her, Gonpachi turns to a life of debauchery, supporting himself by robbery and murder. When he is finally captured and executed, the devoted Komurasaki takes her life at his grave. To honor their memory, sympathetic citizens build a tumulus called hiyokuzuka (lovers' tomb) and temple priests carve a picture of the Hiyoku no tori (比翼鳥), a mythical love-bird — both male and female, each with one eye and one wing — that when flying join as one sex, symbolizing connubial love and fidelity.


The scene is a tachimawari (choreographed fight scene: 立回り) with Honjô Sukehachi using a long pole to attack Gonpachi who raises his sword in defense. The stage setting includes some eye-catching props, especially the extravagantly huge naginata ("long sword" or halberd: 長刀 or 薙刀) on a wooden stand. An attached dragon head has been positioned to seemingly breath flames down the length of the blade. The simulated wood-grain cabinet in the background has a pattern that is not so different from the dragon's flames. Teranishi Kanshin holds a single-panel screen painted with what appears to be an owl, and a small banner with a figure of a samurai lies at the feet of Sukehachi. In addition to the three actors depicted here, the superstar Ichikawa Ebizô V, who also used the name Ichikawa Danjûrô VII, performed the role of the aforementioned Banzuin Chôbei in this same production.

The preservation of colors in this impression is truly excellent, especially the bright red and purple colorants. The right and center sheets have intact margins on each of their left vertical sides, unusual in polyptychs, as the sheets are nearly always trimmed slightly (or substantially) into the images.


  1. For a different triptych by Kunisada produced for the same staging in 8/1838 and published by Iseya Rihei, see Andreas Marks: Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks 1680-1900. Rutland/Tokyo: Tuttle, 2010, pp. 236-37.

There are many publications on the works of Kunisada. A good introduction in English is by Sebastian Izzard (with essays by J. Thomas Rimer and John Carpenter): Kunisada's World. New York: Japan Society in collaboration with Ukiyo-e Society of America, 1993.