Shinmachi ("New Quarters": 新町) was Osaka's official licensed pleasure quarter. Both it and the Shimanouchi (lit., "inside the island": 島の内) unlicensed district to the southwest hosted nerimono sugata (costume parades: ねり物姿) featuring waitresses, geisha, and courtesans performing skits or pantomimes about well-known figures from contemporary society, theater, history, and legend. In this colorful pageant, the women were often accompanied by decorative floats carrying musicians and dancers.
Prints depicting women of the nerimono represent an important exception to the tenacious focus on kabuki for which kamigata-e are known. These visual records of participants in the parades offer glimpses into alternative entertainments beyond the kabuki and puppet theaters, and clues regarding what the citizens of nineteenth-century Osaka found fascinating and enjoyable. The nerimono were large-scale fantasies within a special world of asobi (play or amusement: 遊) where pleasure women, geishas, teahouse waitresses, musicians, actors, theater patrons, and bon vivants eagerly sought escape from everyday life.
Hinaji-dayû's dress-up role of Tawara Tôda is derived from tales about Taira no Masakado (Soma no Kojirô, died 940), a former general with the regent Fujiwarano Takahira who in the year 939 attempted to take control of the eight eastern provinces and declare himself emperor. Takahira's warriors defeated Masakado and later his son Soma Tarô. Theatrical dramatizations about Masakado typically feature supernatural happenings and transformations. Masakado could create ghostly clones of himself, and his castle in Soma near Sendai was said to be haunted by the spirits of his retainers. Both Soma Tarô and his sister Takiyashi-hime — the subject of the better known play Shinobi yoru koi wa kusemono (Appearing Concealed in the Guise of Love) premiering in 7/1836 in Edo — were also capable of sorcery. Takiyashi-hime takes the form of another human (a courtesan) and then, most famously, transfigures herself into a giant toad.
In theatrical retellings, Tawara Tôda [Fujiwara no Hidesato] is a rônin (lit., "wave man," a masterless samurai: 浪人) despite also being the son of a councillor to the Emperor. Hidesato joins the Fujiwara in opposition to Masakado and, in 940, decapitates the rebel after Taira no Sadamori wounds Masakado with an arrow. In another version, Masakado tries to trick Hidesato, an expert archer, into shooting arrows at the wrong targets by dressing five of his retainers as himself. [This strategem might have inspired the legend of Masakado's ability to make clones of himself.] Hidesato kills three of the retainers before his taunts draw out the proud Masakado and provide Hidesato with an opportunity to slay the rebel.
Hidesato is better known as the legendary Tawara Tôda ("Lord Bag of Rice"), a courageous warrior who walks across a fearsome dragon blocking the way across Seta Bridge in Ômi. The dragon then transforms into Oto-hime (Princess Oto; in some versions, it is her father wearing a crown), who reveals that she has waited on the bridge for days, hoping to meet a brave man who would rid her of a giant centipede called Mukade. The creature has destroyed her domain at Lake Biwa and forced her to live under the lake. Oto-hime takes him below the water to her palace, where they feast lavishly until the centipede appears. [In another version, the centipede curls itself seven times around Mikami Mountain.] Tôda wets his arrow with saliva, which is fatal to snakes and centipedes, and kills the monster. He is rewarded with a bale of rice that is never exhausted (hence his nickname) and with other magical gifts.
Shigenobu was the son-in-law and then adopted son of the Edo master Katsushika Hokusai — see Yanagawa Shigenobu. His work in surimono (privately issued specialty prints) with the brilliant Osaka-based woodcarver, printer, and designer Tani Seikô are counted among the glories of ukiyo-e printmaking. Shigenobu was active in Osaka from 1822 to 1825.
Hinaji was a tayû (lit., "great person": 太夫), a courtesan of the highest rank. The appearance of a tayû in a nerimono would have been a sensation, and sales of prints portraying tayû would have benefited accordingly. Hinaji-dayû wears a hikitate ebôshi ("bird-hat pulled upright": 引立烏帽子), a tall, pliable court hat. She carries a long bow and quiver of arrows, which Tawara Tôda used to bring down Masakado. She wears elegant ceremonial robes, a perfect eye-catching costume for the Shinmachi parade.
As Shigenobu was an Edo artist visiting Osaka, he chose to sign as Tôto Yanagawa Shigenobu (東都柳川重信), with the Tôto prefix meaning "Eastern," signifying Edo in eastern Japan. This print is from an important series of at least 14 portraits that Shigenobu designed for the parade in 1822 (the series title is written in the pink cartouche at the upper right). It is with this series that Shigenobu premiered the ôban nishkie bijinga in Kamigata.
Sheets from this series are very difficult to find in good condition. Most surviving impressions have faded color in the large uchiwa (rigid fan: 團扇 or 団扇), thus losing the inscriptions printed in reserve. Our impression, however, retains enough of the fan color to make the inscriptions legible. Furthermore, prints of beautiful women (bijin-ga) in any style are uncommon in kamigata-e, making this a highly desirable print.
References: WAS-IV , no. 665; OSP, no. 256; WKN, no. 149; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (11.25833)