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Archive: Shigeharu (重春)

(R) Nakamura Utaemon III as Asama Saemon Terutsura; (L) Asao Gakujûrô as Fujiemon in Katakiuchi takane no taiko, Naka Theater, Osaka
Gyokuryûtei Shigeharu ga
No artist seal
Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei: 天満屋喜兵衞)
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e
36.3 x 52.5 cm
Very good
Very good color and overall condition (unbacked; slightly trimmed, a few repaired corners and wormholes)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: SGH15


Katakiuchi-mono (revenge-killing plays: 敵討物; also called adauchi-mono: 仇打ち物) were a subgenre of kabuki and puppet theater plays featuring samurai vendettas. In pre-modern Japan, katakiuchi were, within limitations, an accepted way to punish the perpetrators of murder against certain blood relations among the samurai class. Such actions probably had a basis in Confucian morality, which taught that one should not live under the same heaven as his father's enemy. The frequency of katakuchi is unknown, although Tokugawa historical documents exist of applications to local bakufu from relatives of slain lords asking permission to track down and take revenge upon the murderers. Failure to give notice and obtain official sanction was a criminal act. The legalities of katakiuchi were inconsistent among the various domains, and there were also difficulties with murders based on grievances but carried out under the pretense of a moral revenge. The quintessential model of katakiuchi was the Soga monogatari (Tale of the Soga: 曾我物語), recounting the revenge taken by the brothers Soga no Jûrô and Soga no Gorô against Kudô Suketsune for their father's murder in 1193.

The play was apparently performed only in Kamigata, starting in 1808, but neither the plot and nor the origin of the tale are known. Early kabuki libretti were often ephemeral phenomena, without formal publication or any sustained or organized preservation of scripts. Being an actor-centered art form, kabuki allowed its performers (especially the superstars) to take liberties with the dialogue or plots; sometimes scenes or entire plays were adapted to highlight the particular strengths of a star actor. As a result, we occasionally encounter woodblock prints depicting plays for which we have little or no information. For another scene from this same performance, see the archived print SGH08.


Okada (a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its recent dispersal ― a blockbuster event in the world of kamigata-e; see KAM in Bibliography)


References: WAS I-4, no. 458