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 Lady Shizuka Gozen, 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, the fox drives off six armed priests sent to assassinate Yoshitsune before returning to the animal world.
Gozen holds the hand drum given to her by Yoshitsune as Tadanobu alertly observes her. The suit of armor, a gift from Yoshitsune to Tadanobu, is displayed behind them. An extraordinary cloud pattern is visible just above the horizon.
The lovely range of colors is very well preserved in this specimen and the printing is early, with embossing. This is a rare design — we have found only one other recorded design (see reference below).
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)
References: KAN, p. 15, no. 9 (faded)