The tale of Jiraiya was based on a Chinese tale from the Ming dynasty. Various Japanese adaptations appeared in nineteenth-century serialized novels and kabuki, and a fascination with Jiraiya continues today in films, video games, and manga (comics: 漫画). Yaemusubi Jiraiya monogatari (The story of Jiraiya at the weir: 柵自来也談) premiered in 9/1807 at the Kado Theater, Osaka. It is one of several Jiraiya mono (Jiraiya plays: 自来也物) recounting the exploits of the righteous bandit Jiraiya (自来也) and his gang of outlaws who, like Robin Hood, robbed the wealthy and gave back to the poor. In one episode, Jiraiya rescues Tomokichi, a baby whose father, mother, and grandfather were murdered by the villain of the tale. Much later, Jiraiya aids Tomokichi in taking his revenge when the young man beheads his nemesis.
Jiraiya (自来也 or 児雷也, lit., "Young Thunder") was also the hero of the four-act jidaimono (history play: 時代物) called Jiraiya gôketsu monogatari (The tale of gallant Jiraiya: 児雷也豪傑物語) premiered in 7/1852 at the Kawarazaki-za, Edo. It was derived from volumes 1-10 in a popular series of kusazôshi (lit., "grass books" or light illustrated literature: 草双紙) with images by Utagawa Kunisada I and six of his followers. Written by Mizugaki Egao (1789~1846), Keisai Eisen (1790-1848), Ryûkatei Tanekazu (1807-1858) and Ryûsuitei Tanekiyo (1821-1907), the saga was published from 1839 to 1868 (43 volumes). The plot involves complicated intrigues to take over all of Japan by Tsukikage Gunryô Miyukinosuke, the lord of Echigo province and a regent to the shogun, urged on by Orochimaru (大蛇丸), a swordsman and master of serpent magic. Tsukikage makes Orochimaru the sole heir to his Echigo domain. He next attempts to kill Jiraiya, heir to the Ogata family and Tsunate-hime (綱手姫), a Matsuura princess, after stealing from and murdering members of their families, but they are saved by a hermit named Senso Dôjin, who trains them in the secret arts of toad power (Jiraiya) and slug power (Tsunate). Ultimately, after many hardships and recovery of a precious sword called "Namikirimaru," Orochimaru is defeated and exorcised of his serpent power, whereupon the two families are reinstated by the shogun.
This is unquestionably one of the more dramatic prints in kamigata-e. The slanting rain and ominous black clouds suggest a disturbance in the natural order that underlies the necromancy of the play and leads to the confrontation of the actors who, in this scene, take on effectively agitated postures. The hero Jiraiya is depicted subduing two attackers while Iwase Kibunta lurches backwards as the tôrô ("light tower" or stationary lantern: 灯籠) is about to topple over.
The poem, printed in copper-rich brass to simulate gold, was composed by the actor Utaemon signing as Baigyoku (梅玉): Dai kataha aomi kachi nari-hatsu mo michi (大かたは青みかちなり初もみち), meaning "Early fall foliage is mostly green; red is a long way off."
It is possibile that the two sheets in our present diptych came from marginally different editions: the paper for the left sheet is thicker than that of right sheet. Nevertheless, both sheets qualify as deluxe printings.
Other impressions are in the Honolulu Academy of Art (14731a-b), the Ikeda Bunko Shozô collection (Osaka prefecture; see IKBYS reference below), and the Tokyo Metropolitan Library (加4647-表15-16).
Former collection of Martin Levitz, New York, who amassed a fine collection of Osaka prints, some of which were illustrated in Dean Schwaab, Osaka Prints. New York, 1989.
References: IKBYS-II, no. 162