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Archive: Shigeharu (重春)

Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Asama Saemon (浅間左衛門) in Katakiuchi takane no taiko (Revenge and the thunderous noise of the drum: 復讐高音鼓), Naka Theater, Osaka
Gyokuryûtei Shigeharu ga (玉柳亭重春画)
No artist seal
Wataki (Wataya Kihei 綿屋喜兵衛)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
36.7 x 24.5 cm
Very good color, unbacked; slightly trimmed at top; tiny filled wormhole middle of left edge, faint glue residue on both upper corners on verso
Price (USD/¥):

Katakiuchi-mono (revenge-killing plays: 敵討物; also called adauchi-mono: 仇打ち物) were a genre of kabuki and puppet plays featuring samurai vendettas. In pre-modern Japan, katakiuchi were, within limitations, an accepted way to punish the perpetrators of murder against certain blood relations within the samurai class. Such actions probably had a basis in Confucian morality, which taught that one should not live under the same heaven as his father's enemy. The frequency of katakiuchi is unknown, although there are Tokugawa historical documents consisting of applications to local bakufu from relatives of slain lords asking for permission to track down and take revenge upon particular murderers. Failure to give notice and obtain official sanction was a criminal act. The legalities of katakiuchi were inconsistent among the various domains, and there were also difficulties with murders based on grievances but carried out under the pretense of moral retribution. The quintessential model of theatrical katakiuchi was the Soga monogatari (Tale of the Soga: 曾我物語), recounting the revenge taken by the brothers Soga no Jûrô and Soga no Gorô against Kudô Suketsune who was guilty of their father's murder in 1193.

Katakiuchi takane no taiko (Revenge and the thunderous noise of the drum: 復讐高音鼓) was apparently performed only in Kamigata, starting in 1808, but neither the plot and nor the origin of the tale are known. Early kabuki libretti were sometimes treated as ephemera, without formal publication or organized preservation of scripts. Being an actor-centered art form, kabuki allowed its performers (especially the superstars) to take liberties with the dialogue or plots; sometimes scenes or entire plays were adapted to highlight the particular strengths of a star actor. As a result, we occasionally encounter woodblock prints depicting plays for which we have little or no additional information beyond what the prints tell us.


Shigeharu's design portrays the samurai Asama Saemon Terutsuna gripping a scroll as he pulls it out from under his robe. Well behind him is a vanquished adversary, yet another hapless figure tossed to the side during violent confrontations that seemed to define this play, at least as far as Osaka print designers were concerned. We know from other prints that Asama shared the stage with keisei (courtesan) Namiji (SGH08) and Fujiemon (SGH15). In one confrontation scene (KUH19), Asama subdues two antagonists whose robes bear the sawtooth pattern associated with the mega-hit of the puppet and kabuki stages — Kanadehon chûshingura (Copybook of the treasury of loyal retainers: 假名手本忠臣蔵, often called simply "The Forty-seven Rônin"), so it may be that Katakiuchi takane no taiko had some connection, remote or otherwise, with that celebrated revenge tale.

References: IKBYS-II, no. 156