The legendary Chinzei Hachirô Tametomo (1139-70) was seven feet tall, a celebrated archer who used a bow that was more than eight feet long and required the strength of three ordinary men to bend it. He could shoot arrows — their heads as large as spears — with such force that they could sink an enemy ship. Said to have chased away the god of smallpox, Tametomo's image acquired talismanic powers against the disease, leading to his portrayal in "smallpox prints" (hôsô-e 疱瘠絵).
The historical Minamoto Tametomo joined his father, the general Tameyoshi, in the seminal Genpei wars. In the first major battle — the Hôgan Incident of 1156 — Tametomo fought against Taira forces led by his brother, Yoshitomo. The victorious Yoshitomo ordered the execution of Tameyoshi and the exile of Tamemoto. During his banishment to the island of Ôshima in Izu, Tamemoto conquered some of the neighboring islands. This brought forth an imperial expeditionary force to hunt him down. With no escape, Tametomo took his own life, said to be the first recorded instance in which a samurai committed ritualistic suicide by cutting open his abdomen (seppuku).
The Tamemoto depicted in Sadayoshi's print is based on an epic tale written by Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848). It was published in fiction-book format in 29 volumes from 1807-11 under the title "Strange tales of the crescent moon" (Chinsetsu yumihari zuki). In that version, Tamemoto finds refuge in the Ryûkyû Islands. When Tametomo shipwrecks at Okinawa in the Ryûkyû archipelago, he defends Princess Neiwanjo against a minister plotting to take over her throne. He then marries her and fathers a son who becomes the first in a lineage of Okinawan kings, the ancestors of Ashikaga Takaiji (1305-58), who established the Ashikaga shogunate, reigning from 1336 to 1568. Tragedy strikes, however, when Neiwanjo dies. Tametomo then follows her to heaven, leaving their son to rule.
This scene depicts Tametomo (he is named at the far right inside in the large white/yellow cartouche) after he is shipwrecked at Okinawa in the Ryûkyû archipelago where he encounters Princess Neiwanjo (see HKE04).
There are some interesting design elements, such as the chidori (plovers or sanderlings: 千鳥) in flight, forming a half circle (perhaps punning on the "bow-shaped moon" of the play title). These birds were said to be born from the froth of waves, and there are indeed such waves at the far right. The simple seascape in the middle distance reflects the influence of the Edo master Utagawa Hiroshige. Overall, the design offers a preview of the post-Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô Reforms banning actor prints) chûban prints that would dominate Kamigata printmaking from 1/1847.
The print title, Giyû hakkei Tsukushi kihan, includes Tsukushi (筑紫 sometimes called Chikushû 筑州), the old name for the provinces of Chikuzen and Chikugo in northern Kyushu. The characters for hakkei pun as well on the traditional Ômi hakkei (Eight views of Ômi: 近江八景) theme. Related to this, Kihan (returning sails: 帰帆) refers to Yabase kihan (Returning sailboats at Yabase: 八橋帰帆), one of the Eight Views. In addition, Giyû (loyalty and courage: 義勇) was one of those post-Tenpô terms meant to abide by the letter of the law, purporting to be about a loftier subject than a mere portrait of an actor (who is, of course, not explicitly named on the print).
The colors are in a remarkably fine state of perservation. The slight tarnishing on the left sleeve and body of the robe is due to de-oxydation of the blue — a very common characteristic of that particular colorant (it is not considered "damage") and often found on ukiyo-e prints. Moreover, we have not yet found another impression, making this a distinctly rare design.
This impression is from the famed Haber Collection, New York and is illustrated in Schwaab, Osaka Prints (see OSP below).
References: OSP, no. 200; KNP-6, p. 499; IKB-I, no. 3-117