Katakiuchi Ganryûjima (Revenge at Ganryû Island: 敵討巌流島) was one of the many popular tales of vengeance and retribution staged in kabuki. These "revenge plays" were called katakiuchi mono (敵討物) or adauchi mono (仇打ち物). The plot of Katakiuchi Ganryûjima is unknown to us, although it must be related to other revenge dramas involving the legendary Miyamoto Musashi, such as Katakiuchi nitô no eiyûki (A tale of revenge and great courage: 復讐二島英勇記). In one scene from that play, Musashi adroitly uses a wooden sword — a deadly weapon in the hands of a master — to slay the murderer of his father. In another legend, Musashi challenged his long-time rival and expert swordsman Sasaki Kojirô (佐々木 小次郎, also known as Ganryû Kojirô, (1585? – April 13, 1612; his fighting name Ganryû meaning "large rock style" 巌流) to a duel on the remote Ganryû Island (at Funashima, the strait between Honshû and Kyûhsû). Legendary or not, Kojirô is considered Musashi's most formidable opponent, and the last one he killed. In the duel, Musashi is said to have fashioned a very long wooden sword (bokken 木剣 or bokutô 木刀) from an oar while traveling by boat to the arranged duel.
The historical Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584-1645; 宮本 武蔵), whose name meant "Storehouse of military knowledge," was born in Mimasaka or Harima, Japan. He became a legendary swordsman and the son of the celebrated fencing master Yoshioka Tarozaemon, a retainer of the Ashikaga shôgun Yoshiteru. Musashi was a bold and reputedly reckless adventurer who nevertheless survived armed combat more than 60 times and died a natural death on June 13, 1645 in Higo. Today, Musashi is widely known in the West as the author of Gorin no sho (The Book of Five Rings: 五輪書), a treatise on military tactics, strategy, and philosophy. After its first English translation in 1974, the book captured the popular imagination and was studied earnestly by business executives in the West to understand Japanese management techniques and strategies used during Japan's rise to post-war economic power (since then, of course, somewhat diminished).
Very little is known about Toyohide (豊秀). His family name was Kitagawa (北川), and he also used the geimei (art names: 芸名) Ichiryûtei (一𣴑亭) and Isshintei (一信亭). He was active a few years before and a year after the start of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô Reforms: 天保改革) of 1842, edicts that virtually halted print production in Osaka for five years. Toyohide's prints date from 1838 to 1843. On at least two print designs his signature appears within a toshidama-style cartouche ("New Year's jewel" or "New Year's gift," a type of year seal used as the crest of the Utagawa school of artists), suggesting a possible connection with the Edo-based artist Utagawa Kunisada (歌川國貞 later Toyokuni III 豊國 1786-1865), although Toyohide's use of "Toyo" (豊) in his name precedes Kunisada's taking of the Toyokuni name in 1844 and could suggest that Toyohide might have had an early apprenticeship with Utagawa Toyokuni I (歌川豊國 1769-1825), albeit more than a decade before Toyohide's first known prints. To complicate matters further, the Osaka print scholar Hendrick Lühl (unpublished correspondence) has determined that there was a second artist named Toyohide (dates unknown), also signing "Kitagawa Toyohide" or simply "Toyohide," who worked in the post-Tenpô chûban format (circa 1847-63). No pupils of the first Toyohide have been identified.
Toyohide's documented designs, which number only around 17, are infrequently encountered, even more so with very good color, as here. He worked most often with the publisher Honya Seisichi 本屋清七 (Honsei, 本清), producing 10 works, and primarly with three different theaters (Kado, Naka, Onishi). All but one design depict full-length figures (all ôban or "large" format, 大判), while a single chûban (中判) ôkubi-e ("large head" or bust portrait, 大首絵) is known.
References: IKBYS-III, no. 218