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

(1R) Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII (市川團十郎) as Kinugawa Tanizô (絹川谷蔵); (2R) Ichikawa Kodanji IV (市川小團次) as Sabu's Younger Sister (Imôto) Kasane (三ふ妹かさね) in Kozotte kuruwa mimasu no Date-zome (Three squares Date-dyed in the pleasure quarter: 挙廓三升伊達染), Nakamura Theater (中村座), Edo (江戸)
Toyokuni ga 豊國画
Toshidama artist cartouche; Carver Seal: hori Take (彫竹); Censor/Date Seals: aratame ("examined": 改) and double nanushi seals: Kinugasa, Murata, (衣笠、村田) + Rat 12 (子十二)
Seal reading "Toku, Hamadaya" = Hamadaya Tokubei (濱田屋徳兵衛)
12/1852 (censor seals)
1/1853 (performance)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki
37.0 x 25.2 cm
Very good color, unbacked; some thin areas and light grime
Price (USD/¥):

Date sôdô mono ("Date family-troubles plays": 伊達騒動物) feature various retellings of sagas involving the real-life Date clan of Sendai in Ôshû, beginning in the 1660s when the daimyô (military lord: 大名) Date Tsunamune (伊達 綱宗 1640=1711) whose succession and rule was opposed by some of his kinsmen and vassals. This dispute eventually led to the so-called Date sôdô ("Date disturbance": 伊達騒動) of 1671, which has been retold in the puppet and kabuki theaters and has become one of the best-known tales of unrest and disunity among the daimyô of the Edo period. When Tsunamune dallied with a courtesan named Takao (高尾), his scandalous behavior was used as a pretext to place him under house arrest when charged with public drunkenness and debauchery. He lived the next 50 years under lenient house arrest at the clan residence in the Ôi area of Edo, devoting his time to the arts, studying painting under Kanô Tan'yû (狩野 探幽 1602-1674), calligraphy, waka poetry, maki-e (蒔絵) lacquerware, and even learning to forge Japanese swords. Legends about Tsunamune murdering Takao after she spurned his advances appear not to be true, as she died in 1659 of illness and not by his hand

Some of the theatrical dramatizations of Date sôdô mono had fantastical subplots, such as the one central to Date kurabe okuni kabuki (The Date rivalry as Okuni kabuki: 伊達競阿國劇場 premiered in 1778), when the usurper Nikki Danjo (仁木弾正), endowed with magical powers, plots to overthrow the clan leader Ashikaga Yorikane (足利頼錦) and is confronted by Arajishi Otokonosuke (荒獅子男之助). Kozotte kuruwa mimasu no Date-zome (Three squares Date-dyed in the pleasure quarter: 挙廓三升伊達染) was one of the many Date sôdô mono. It, too, included action involving the supernatural (see below). The title includes a pun on the mon (crest: 紋) of the Ichikawa acting lineage, namely, the mimasu (triple rice-measuring boxes: 三升). According to a tsuji banzuke ("cross-street playbill": 辻番付) or an advance publicity kabuki playbill in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (acc. no. 11.28047), the day's program also included a Tokiwazu-style jôruri piece (浄瑠璃 dance with musical accompaniment) called Toki ni Kanô azuma nishiki-e (当叶東錦絵).


In the play Kozotte kuruwa mimasu no Date-zome, Kinugawa Tanizô is a former sumôtori (sumo wrestler: 相撲取り) who is now a faithful retainer of the daimyô Ashikaga Yorikane (足利頼兼). In the aforementioned related play, Date kurabe okuni kabuki, Kinugawa murders the courtesan Takao, Yorikane's lover, in order to save him from a scandalous love affair that was about to bring ruin to his household. Kinugawa then escapes and hides in the village of Hanyû. Disguising himself as a farmer and calling himself Yoemon, he marries Kasane (portrayed on the left sheet of Kunisada's diptych), the younger sister of both Takao and the tofu maker Saburobei. Soon after their wedding, Kasane is cursed by Takao's vengeful spirit and her face is terribly disfigured. Horrified, Yoemon kills Kasane by the Kinugawa River.

This subplot (actually, an alternate sekai, or world, 世界) is one of various Kasane mono (plays about Kasane: 累物), in particular one that has become conflated with the Data sôdô mono. Such revenge stories derived from a medieval Buddhist theology that taught ordinary people about the Buddhist law of causality (karma or in'ga: 困果). The tales embodied the message that it was in everyone's best interest to follow the Buddha's teaching of honesty and compassion because evil-doings such as murder and treachery would be met with horrific retribution, a punishment enacted by the ghostly incarnation of the victims of the evil. The first kabuki adaptation of Kasane appeared in 1731 as Ôzumo fujito genji (大角力藤戸源氏).

Also note that while the combined censor-date seals place Kunisada's design in the 12th lunar month of 1852, that would be, in this instance, the date the design was granted approval by the censors, as the performance actually began in the first lunar month of 1853. For example, the playbill cited earlier (MFAB, acc. no. 11.28047) suggests a date of around the 11th day of the 1st lunar month in 1853. Moreover, the play is listed in Kabuki nenpyô, vol. 6, p. 578 as opening on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month of 1853 (see Ihara ref. below). This kabuki record also confirms the connection between Kozotte kuruwa mimasu no Date-zome and other Date sôdô mono, listing many roles, including Tanizô (谷蔵) and Kasane (かさね) along with some of the principals in the Date sôdô sagas, such as Yorikane (頼兼), Nikki Danjo (仁木弾正), and Otokonosuke (男之助),


  1. See our Kunisada I Biography.
  2. Also see
  3. There is also a website devoted to Kunisada:
  4. Hirano, Katsuya: The Politics of Dialogic Imagination: Power and Popular Culture in Early Modern Japan. (Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning). University of Chicago Press, 2013, pp. 180-183.
  5. Ihara, Toshirô (伊原敏郎): Kabuki nenpyô (Chronology of kabuki: 歌舞伎年表). Vol. 6. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten (岩波書店), 1961.
  6. Leiter, Samuel: New Kabuki Encyclopedia — A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki jiten. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997, pp. 74-76.
  7. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (11.28047) for the tsuji banzuke, and 11.29963-4 and 11.43834a-b for two impressions of the diptych.
  8. Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum, nos. 100-8649, 100-8650.

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.