The artist signing here as Kunishige (國重 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).
Many of kabuki's domestic dramas were adaptations of actual events. In 7/1702 at the Yotsubashi in Osaka, a furuteya (古手屋) or dealer in second-hand goods named Hachirôbei murdered Otsuma (おつま), a prostitute in the Tanbaya (丹波屋) teahouse. It was quickly adapted for kabuki and staged in Osaka's three major theaters (Onishi, Kado, and Naka). The story continued to spawn more adaptations — as was the custom for sordid or shocking tales that caught the fancy of the public — as songs and dramas about the ill-fated couple proliferated. In some versions, Otsuma was changed from a prostitute to Hachirôbei's wife. Edo and Osaka each produced its preferred versions for bunraku (puppet theater) and kabuki, with occasional conflations of similar real events. Unbelievably, a real-life incident in Edo involved a prostitute named Ginneko Otsuma slain by vendor of dry goods also named Hachirôbei. Another event, the murder of a courtesan named Wakano, Osaka in 1764, led to a new production titled Fumizuki urami no kiriko (文月恨切子) in 7/1764 at the Naka Theater. Also in Kamigata, another version of the story of Otsuma and Hachirôbei for the puppets entitled Sakura tsuba urami no samezaya (The cherry blossom sword hilt and the vengeful sharkskin scabbard: 桜鍔恨鮫鞘) was staged in 11/1774 at the Toyotake-za (豊竹座), Osaka. Many of the Otsuma Hachirôbei mono portrayed Hachirôbei as especially despicable and included scenes in which Otsuma engages in aisozukashi ("becoming sick of something or someone": 愛想尽かし), a kabuki convention in which a woman verbally abuses a man without looking directly at his face as she rejects his advances.
Kane morotomo yume no samezaya, the present adaptation of the Otsuma Hachirôbei mono, premiered in 5/1813 at the Kyoto Shijô Kitagawa Theater (京都四條北側芝居). The later production in 5/1849 represents one of the relatively few instances when stagings at the Wakadayû, a middle theater in Osaka, resulted in a published woodblock print.
In Kunishige's design, Hachirôbei looks across a street toward the Tanbaya, possibly shortly before he confronts Otsuma.
This is a finely printed specimen — note in particular the furikake (metallic printing: 振掛) on the folding fan (ôgi: 扇) and in the red cartouche, in this case copper and gold-color brass. The colors are superb.
References: IKB-I, no. 5-44