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Archive: Nagakuni (長國)

Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Ishikawa Goemon (石川五右衛門) in Keisei chigogafuchi (けいせい稚児淵), Kado Theater, Osaka
Nagakuni ga (長國画)
No artist's seal
Wataki 綿喜 (Wataya Kihei, 綿屋喜兵衛) and Sôshiya (草紙屋)
(H x W)
Oban nishiki-e
39.3 x 26.8 cm
Excellent color, unbacked; numerous expertly repaired wormholes
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: NGK02


The Chigo Deep Water (Chigo ga fuchi) in the play title Keisei chigogafuchi (A courtesan and deep water at Chigo: けいせい稚児淵) was located off the island of Enoshima. It was there in the twelfth century that a young acolyte or temple page (chigo) named Shiragikumaru committed suicide rather than choose between two priests who vied for his love. The play Keisei chigogafuchi (A courtesan and deep water at Chigo: けいせい稚児淵), along with Chigogafuchi koi no shiranami (Chigo deep water and the white waves of love: 児渕恋白浪), combined the legends of the outlaw Ishikawa Goemon with a revenge tale involving Shiragikumaru (renamed Sutewakamaru in the kabuki dramas). The conflated saga includes Sutewakamaru vowing to avenge the death of Takechi Mitsuhide who had been slain by Mashiba Hisayoshi (the theatrical namesake for the historical shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 1537-1598). This links the Sutewakamaru plot with various Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川五右衛門物), the legendary fugitive outlaw during the reign of Hideyoshi. Late in the play, Sutewakamaru transforms into Goemon.

The historical Ishikawa Goemon was a notorious rônin (floating man, i.e., masterless samurai: 浪人) during the reign of the shôgun Hideyoshi. At age sixteen he murdered three men while attempting to steal from his master. After his escape, he lived as a bandit for the next two decades until, in 1594, he was finally captured during a failed attempt to kill Hideyoshi. Goemon met a grisly end by being boiled in oil.

The theatrical Goemon was transformed into a hero — fearless, elusive, and endowed with magical powers. The first staging of Goemon's exploits occurred in the 1680s. A century later, Kinmon gosan no kiri (The golden gate and paulownia crest: 金門五三桐), written by Namiki Gohei I, premiered in 1788 as a five-act drama (it was renamed Sanmon gosan no kiri for its premiere in Edo in 1800). It recounts Goemon's efforts to take revenge against Mashiba Hisayoshi (a pseudonym for the historical Hideyoshi), the enemy of both his adoptive and natural fathers. The gosan ("five, three [of paulownia]") in the title refers to the five flowers on the three stems above the paulownia (kiri: 桐) leaves, Hideyoshi's particular version of the kiri crest (visible on each sleeve), for centuries symbolic of imperial and shogunal power.


Naniwa Nagakuni (浪花長國), active in Osaka circa 1816–21, was a pupil of Urakusai Nagahide. He is not the same artist who signed early on, c. 1813, as Nagakuni and later became Gigadô Ashiyuki (戯画堂芦幸).

This is only our second offering of a Nagakuni print, an artist whose prints are always rarities, whether in the major collections of Japanese prints, or in the various dealer inventories for sale. Despite the (professionally) repaired insect damage, we offer this impression as an example of an Osaka print with impressively fresh color for a print of this early period.

References: KNZ,, no. 31