Kyoto was the main center of activity for the production of kappazuri-e (stencil prints, literally, "oil-skin prints"), with a tradition spanning close to a century. The technique dispensed with irohan (color blocks); instead, katakomi or katagami (paper stencils) were formed by layers of pasted paper coated with kashikibu (persimmon juice) to serve as the matrix for coloring. Using a technique allied with textile stencil dyeing, printers brushed the colorants through holes cut into stencils aligned with the key block design. Compared with block-printed colors, those on most kappazuri-e had certain telltale characteristics: visible brush strokes; variable coverage of the paper; inconsistent registration or gaps near the key block lines; and "pooling" at the borders of the stencil cutouts. Commonly, kappazuri-e represented a less expensive and faster method of print production (many kappazuri-e were designed by minor artists, and unsigned). In the best examples, however, the technique could yield color prints on a par with block-printed nishiki-e ("brocade" or color-block prints).
Sadly, almost all kappazuri-e have perished over time, due to the delicacy of the paper, their generally small size, and the relatively low esteem in which they have been held when compared with nishiki-e (although they, too, were too often neglected). The vast majority of kappazuri-e designs are now very difficult to find, regardless of condition.
Dramas about Sakurahime fell within the genre called Seigen Sakurahime mono (Plays about Seigen and Princess Sakura). Especially popular in Edo, they featured many variations on the tale of the priest Seigen of the Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto, whose obsessive lust for the beautiful Princess Sakura leads to tragedy. Kiyomizu Seigen iori no akebono (Kiyomizu Seigen: Daybreak in the pleasure quarter), written by Chikamatsu Tokusô (1751-1810; a disciple of Chikamatsu Hanji, 1725-1783), had an unusual source of inspiration. Premiering in 5/1808 at the Kitagawa no shibai, Kyoto, it was based on a fictional yomihon (lit., "books for reading") by the celebrated Santô Kyôden (1761-1816), titled Sakurahime zenden akebono zôshi (1805; illustrated by the Edo artist Utagawa Toyokuni I). The novel was set back in the time of the retired emperor Go-Toba (1180-1239) and recounts a tale of retribution for the murder of Tamagoto, mistress of Washinoo Yoshiharu. Her spirit forces her son Seigen, a priest at Kiyomizu-dera, to fall in love with with Sakurahime, daughter of the murderess Nowaki no Kata (Yoshiharu's legal wife). Events turn tragic when Seigen is killed, Sakurahime suffers terribly, and Nowaki is struck down by a bolt of lightning directed by the avenging ghost of Tamagoto.
Arashi Tomisaburô II (1791-1831), a pupil of Arashi Sangorô III, took the Tomisaburô name in 1807. Although we have not identified a performance for Seikoku's print (either in the standard literature or theater programs), the style of composition, along with the dates of Tomisaburô's shûmei (name taking), publication of Kyôden's Sakurahime zenden, and premiere of Kiyomizu Seigen, all suggest a revival staging of c. 1810.
Seikoku's design was well served by the kappazuri-e technique — with good color registration and subtle coloring. Sakura (cherry blossoms) figure prominently in Tomisaburô's costume, the motif being used in her bira bira kanzashi (fluttering hairpins), hanagushi (flower comb), and kimono. The actor's mon (crest) can be seen on his left sleeve. In this expressive portrait of the tragic Sakurahime, the wild-hair wig signifies a woman in distress.
Currently, no other impressions of this design have been recorded.
References: NKE, p. 562