The play Futatsu chôchô kuruwa nikki (Diary of two butterflies in the pleasure quarters: 双蝶々曲輪日記) is a tale of two sumô wrestlers, Hanaregoma Chôkichi, and Nuregami Chôgorô. [Note the pun in the play title, as both names include the character for chô, "butterfly."] The central theme involves an attempt to thwart the ransom of a courtesan named Azuma (sister of keisei Miyako) by the evil samurai Hiraoka Goemon (also Chôkichi's patron) in favor of Chôgorô's sponsor, Yogorô, whom Azuma loves. Yogorô bribes Chôgorô to throw a sumô match against Chôkichi in the hope of enlisting the latter's help in stopping Goemon, but even after being handed a false victory, Chôkichi refuses to violate his patron's wishes. Afterward, in a scene in which Chôgorô prevents Chôkichi from committing seppuku (ritual suicide, lit., "incision of the abdomen": 切腹) over shame for falling into dissipation, the two wrestlers become "brothers," and then Chôkichi returns the favor by aiding Chôgorô in his escape after he murders four men trying to steal Azuma for Goemon.
In another scene, Miyako's lover Nan Yohei is attacked by a clerk named Genkorô (who wants Miyako for himself) and a few thugs in the employ of the aforementioned Goemon. Yôhei escapes by leaping from the stage, using an open umbrella as a parachute. Later, Yôhei slays another villain in a dispute over Miyako, but is set free because of the crimes committed by the murdered adversary. He then marries Miyako. Later, Yôhei succeeds his father as village magistrate, changing his name to Nanpô Jûjibei, while Miyako becomes Ohaya. By chance, she encounters Chôgorô and tries to give him refuge (he is a fugitive after killing the previously mentioned four men to help Azuma and Yogorô escape from Goemon). Her husband is bound by giri (obligation or duty: 義理) to arrest Chôgorô, but secretly gives him money to aid in his escape.
The artist signing here as Kunishige (active c. 1847-55) is not the same as Nagasaki (Takigawa) Kunishige, the earlier name used from 1821 to 7/1826 by the well-known master Yanagawa (Ryûsai) Shigeharu (1802-52; active 1821-49).
The series title identifies this design as one from the many tales of courage (yûden: 勇傳), morally uplifting titles that artists of the period used for prints or series in the wake of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô reforms: 天保改革) that had banned the publication of actor prints from 1842-1847. These titles amounted to mere transparent camouflage — no one, including government censors, was fooled into thinking that these images were anything but actor prints. Even so, the gesture helped satisfy the letter of the law. Note, too, that actor names are not given on the print, a small price to pay to side-step government penalties, as ukiyo-e patrons knew all the stylized ukiyo-e physiognomies of the actors and were intimately familiar with current stage productions.
Chôkichi's robe is decorated with koma (駒), pentagon-shaped game pieces used for shôgi (將棊), a Japanese game resembling chess, played by two players whose object is to capture the opponent’s King.
There appears to be only one other recorded example (see TWOP below). This is a finely printed specimen — note in particular the metallic printing (furikake 振掛), in this case copper and gold-color brass.
References: IKB-I, no. 13-91; TWOP, no. 258ab (not illustrated, but presumed to be the same design)