The play Keisei setsugekka (Courtesan: Sun, moon, and flowers: けいせい雪月花) premiered at the Kado Theater at the New Year in 1830. It was written by the superstar actor Nakamura Utaemon III under his penname Kanazawa Ryûgoku. Later, just one act (called Kari no tayori) was taken from the whole and performed as a light-hearted piece without the drama featured in the larger play. It is this extracted piece that is mostly known today.
The plot of Keisei setsugekka, a jidaimono ("period piece" or history play: 時代物), is very complicated, especially as many characters were well known from various sekai ("worlds" or spheres: 世界), that is, they were derived from other kabuki and puppet plays as well as historical accounts and legends. As was the case for the present play, sekai often served as devices for presentating "doubling structures" wherein audiences could enjoy clever juxtapositions of contemporary and historical events and characters.
Ishida no Tsubone, in this play the mother of the infamous outlaw Ishikawa Goemon, is married to the Lord of Tajima, who is slain by the Toyotomi clan for siding with the general Mitsuhide. The historical Akechi Jûbei Minamoto-no-Mitsuhide (明智 十兵衛源の光秀 1528-82) served the great daimyô Oda Nobunaga (織信長 1534-82), against whom Mitsuhide rebelled in 1582, which led to Nobunaga's death. The disloyal Mitsuhide was in turn slain by Japan's second great unifier, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98). In the play Keisei setsugekka, Ishida plots to assassinate the regent Hisatsugu (the historical Toyotomi Hidetsugu, 1568-95) but fails and is forced to commit suicide. Her son Goemon's later exploits and intrigues as an outlaw were in part intended to avenge his mother's death.
The cast for this production was highly unusual. After fires destroyed all three theaters in Edo in 3/1829, a number of renowned Edo actors relocated temporarily in Osaka to perform there while the Edo theaters were rebuilt. The 1/1830 premiere production was a huge hit, featuring Edo's Ichikawa Hakuen II (the name used by Ichikawa Danjûrô VII while acting in Osaka), Nakamura Matsue III, Matsumoto Kôshirô V, and Sawamura Kunitarô II. The same cast traveled to Kyoto to perform Keisei setsugekkain the third month. Besides Hokushû, seemingly all the top-level artists designed prints for this play, including Ashiyuki, Hokuei, Kunihiro, Shigeharu, and Yoshikuni.
In Shigeharu's triptych Ishida no Tsubone is dancing on a stage as Ayaori performs on the koto (Japanese horizontal harp or zither: 琴). Saito Kuranosuke observes the two women as he sits before an ô-daiko (large drum: 大太鼓). Behind the actors, one can see that some of the banners of a festival procession include the names of publishers such as "Murata", "Ten" (Tenki), and "Hon" (Honsei).
References: KNP-6, p. 227; IKBYS-II, no. 126; IKB 1-467; Victoria & Albert Museum (E.12445-1886)