Yoshitsune senbon zakura (Yoshitsune and the thousand cherry trees: 義経千本桜) was written for the puppet theater by Takeda Izumo II, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Namiki Senryû and first performed at the Takemoto no Shibai, Osaka in 1747. The play involves various episodes from a historical tale highlighting the military conflicts between Heike and Genji (Taira vs. Minamoto) clans. The real Tadanobu is an ally of Shizuka Gozen (Lady Shizuka), the concubine of the celebrated warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) who is in flight from his half brother Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), Japan's military leader.
In the dramatization, Yoshitsune is forced to leave Shizuka, whereupon he gives her a hand drum as a keepsake. When she is attacked by a retainer of Yoritomo's, the fox-Tadanobu saves her. Yoshitsune observes this from a distance and gives the fox-impostor a suit of armor, thinking that he is entrusting Shizuka Gozen’s safety to the real Tadanobu. But when she plays the drum, Tadanobu undergoes a metamorphosis and begins to dance, his movements animal-like, for the drum is made from the skins of his parents. Finally, all is revealed, and Yoshitsune gives Tadanobu the hand drum in appreciation of his loyalty. In one last act of loyalty before returning to the animal world, the fox drives off six armed priests sent to assassinate Yoshitsune.
Shigeharu's diptychs with elaborate backgrounds or border designs are much sought after and difficult to find. This one features falling cherry petals, flower blossoms, shibori (shaped-resist dyeing: 絞り) textile patterns, and, along the bottom, goldfish and waves.
This is the right sheet of a diptych; the other sheet depicts Nakamura Utaemon III as Kitsune Tadanobu.
References: OSP, no. 141; NKE, p. 708