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Archive: Seikoku (清谷)

Arashi Kichisaburô II (嵐吉三郎) as Chinzei Hachirô Tametomo (鎮西八郎為朝), most likely in a performance of Shima meguri tsuki no yumihari (A bow-shaped moon around the islands: 島廻月弓張), theater and date unidentified, Kyoto(?)
Seikoku ga (清谷画)
No artist seal
Manyosan (万与斎)
circa 1815
(H x W)
Hosoban kappazuri-e
34.2 x 15.2 cm
Very good
Pristine color and excellent overall condition, unbacked; no issues to report

Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry (Ref #SKK02)


KAPPAZURI-E: Kyoto was the main center of activity for the production of kappazuri-e (stencil prints, literally, "oil-skin prints": 合羽摺絵), with a tradition spanning close to a century. Once abundant throughout western Japan (Kansai), kappazuri-e were often printed quickly and in small and cheap editions on thin paper, with fugitive pigments (generally more transparent than those used in nishiki-e — "brocade prints" or full-color prints, 浮世絵), which were brushed through stencils after woodblocks were used to stake out the keyblock lines. It was only in Kyoto that kappazuri-e maintained fairly high standards and enjoyed a measure of respect up to the midpoint of the nineteenth century.

Sadly, almost all stencil prints 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 (though they, too, were too often neglected). The vast majority of stencil-print designs are now very difficult to find, regardless of condition.

TAMETOMO: The legendary Chinzei Hachirô Tametomo (1139-70) was seven feet tall, a celebrated archer whose bow 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 Seikoku'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.


Seikoku's design portrays a standing Tametomo holding his long bow and a fan emblazoned with a red sun, emblem of Japan. His footwear is covered in animal fur, as well as his sword scabbard.

The colors on this impression are exceptionally well preserved — rarely are such colors found on early hosoban stencil prints from Kyoto.

We know of only one other impression of this design, which is in the Hendrick Lühl collection (see SDK below), but that example has significant fading and damage.

References: SDK, p. 78, no. 152