Play: Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan (Tôkaidô ghost story at Yotsuya: 東海道四谷怪談) was written in 1825, a kabuki masterpiece by the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV (鶴屋南北 1755 - 1829). The main theme in this most popular of all kabuki ghost plays involves Tamiya Iemon (民谷伊左衛門), the husband of Yotsuya Oiwa (四谷お岩) and a down-on-his-luck rônin reduced to making oil-paper umbrellas. Iemon despairs over his ill fortune, made worse by Oiwa, who is struggling in her postpartum convalescence and nursing a newborn child. He finds temptation in a neighbor's young daughter named Oume, and is persuaded by her grandfather to give Oiwa a "medicinal potion" — actually a poison — meant to disfigure Oiwa so that Iemon will divorce her. Oiwa drinks the potion whereupon her face takes on a monstrous countenance. Soon after, she dies in an accident brought on by jealousy and rage. Her ghost relentlessly haunts Iemon, tracking him down in a hermitage at Hebiyama (Snake Mountain: 蛇山) where he is taking refuge. He is finally slain by Satô Yomoshichi and the sister of a servant he has murdered. Yomoshichi is a rônin (a "wave man" or " floating man," i.e., masterless samurai: 浪人) who was once a vassal of the lord Enya Hangan, a samurai who is forced to commit seppuku in the great katakiuchi-mono (revenge-killing play: 敵討物 or adauchi-mono: 仇打ち物) titled Kanadehon chûshingura (Copybook of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers: 假名手本忠臣蔵), from which Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan was adapted. Yomoshichi, who is bethrothed to Oiwa's sister, Osode, a part-time pleasure woman, has joined the rônin the vendetta against Kô no Moronao, the nemesis of their deceased master Hangan. In another episode, Yomoshichi rescues Okuda Shôsaburô, the son of another rônin in the vendetta.
Actor: Onoe Kikugorô III (三代目 尾上菊五郎) was one of the greatest kaneru yakusha (all-around actors: 兼ねる役者) in kabuki history. His stage rivalry with Ichikawa Danjûrô VII (市川團十郎 1791-1859) pitched the fans of both actors into spirited competitions, each coterie claiming that its hero was the greatest actor of his generation. Kikugorô's alliance with the Tsuruya Nanboku IV resulted in the best known of kabuki's kaidan mono (ghost plays: 怪談物), when in 7/1825 Kikugorô premiered the role of Oiwa in Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan cited above.
The snake wrapped around the hanging robe is associated with Hebiyama (Snake Mountain: 蛇山), where Iemon takes refuge in a hermitage in Act V.
Very little is known about the artist Toyohide. His family name was Kitagawa, and he also used the geimei (art names: 芸名) Ichiryûtei and Isshintei. He was active from 1838 to 1843, 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 nearly five years. Occasionally his signature appears within a toshidama-style cartouche ("New Year's jewel" or "New Year's gift" 年玉, a type of year seal used as the crest of the Utagawa school of artists), suggesting a connection with the Edo-based artist Utagawa Kunisada (歌川國貞 later Toyokuni III 豊國 1786-1865), although his use of "Toyo" (豊) in his name precedes Kunisada's official adoption of the Toyokuni name in 1844, which suggests to some scholars that Toyohide might have had a connection with Utagawa Toyokuni I (歌川豊國 1769-1825) more than a decade before Toyohide's first known prints.
Toyohide's documented designs, which number only around a dozen, are infrequently encountered, even more so with good color, as here. Moreover, this impression has a notable provenance (see below).
Provenance: This print comes from the famed collection of Okada Isajiro (岡田伊三次郎) — a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its gradual dispersal starting in the year 2000 — a blockbuster event in the world of kamigata-e; see KAM).
References: IKBYS-III, no. 217