Ichikawa Hakuen II (市川白猿) was the temporary acting name of the Edo superstar Ichikawa Danjûrô VII (市川 團十郎 1791-1859; also known as Ichikawa Ebizô V), who performed briefly (5/1829 to 3/1830) in Osaka after fires destroyed all three Edo theaters (Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za) in 3/1829. Hakuen also performed in Sakai and Kyoto in the tenth and eleventh months of 1829, respectively, and toured Ise, Nagoya and Tateyama in spring and summer 1830 before returning to Edo in 8/1830. His appearance in Osaka caused quite a sensation, and fans filled the theaters to watch him perform. The name Hakuen was first used on the kabuki stage by his grandfather, Danjûrô V, in the premiere of Date kurabe Okuni kabuki (The Date rivalry as Okuni kabuki: 伊達競阿國劇場) in 1778.
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 Osaka superstar Nakamura Utaemon III under his penname Kanazawa Ryûgoku. Later, just one act (called Kari no tayori) was excerpted 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 imaginative juxtapositions of contemporary and historical events and characters. Mixed into all this, for example, is the sekai of the legendary rônin (masterless samurai: 浪人) bandit Ishikawa Goemon (石川五右衛門), performed in this staging by Nakamura Utaemon III. In real life, Goemon (1558 – 10/8/1594), at the age of sixteen, murdered three men during a robbery. He was finally captured many years later, whereupon the shogun Hideyoshi had him boiled in oil. The Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川五右衛門物) endowed the outlaw with supernatural powers and devilish abilities to disguise himself, which provided playwrights with opportunities for fantastical action — often aided by clever stagecraft — and surprising plot twists.
The 1/1830 premiere staging of the play was a huge hit, particularly as the cast featured not only Edo's Ichikawa Hakuen II, but also other stars from that eastern hub of ukiyo-e printmaking, namely Nakamura Matsue III, Matsumoto Kôshirô V, and Sawamura Kunitarô II. The same cast traveled to Kyoto to perform Keisei setsugekka in the third month. In addition to Shigeharu, seemingly all the top-level Osaka artists designed prints for this play, including Ashiyuki, Hokushû, Hokuei, Kunihiro, and Yoshikuni.
Shigeharu's design depicts Hakuen as yakko (footman: 奴) Gunsuke from the 1/1830 premiere of the play. The inset portrays Hakuen as his alter ego, the samurai Saeda Masaemon (早枝政左衛門).
The colors on this impression are excellent, with the fugitive pink ground still intact (note that the pink color is difficult to photograph accurately and is more pronounced than in our images here).
The long inscription provides a description of the scene portrayed by Shigeharu. The Japanese reads as follows: がてんゆかずは一と通りいつて きせふ。きよあきごてんのお金 くらをひらきしところ。おもひ がけなきぐん用金と。かふろの ふんじつ南無三ほう。おいへを うかがふざんしやのしわざ。あ れなる権平としめしあわせ宝の せんぎ。計らす手に入みつしよ にて香ろのとふぞくたしかにし る。そふともしらぬうつけもの おもんぱかりのづをはづさず。 おのれとあらはすなんじかあく じ。もはやのかれぬてんばつし ふばつつみにふくしてはくぜう いたせ
References: IKBYS-II, no. 130; WAS-IV no. 423