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Archive: Yoshikuni

(R) Bandô Mitsugorô III as Iruka Daijin; and (L) Nakamuara Utaemon III as ryôshi [fisherman] Fukashichi in Imoseyama onna teikin, Kado Theater, Osaka
Yoshikuni ga

No artist seal; Printer: suri Kinji (see detail below right)

Chû (Ariharadô Kôbun [Ariwaradô Chûbei]) and Toshin
(H x W)
Oban diptych nishiki-e
36.5 x 51.2 cm
Moderately good color (some fading); good condition (slightly uneven edges; slightly trimmed; a small stain on Mistugorô's left knee; a few creases; very light soil; thin spots in some corners and along one edge; slightly trimmed)
Price (USD/¥):
Inquiry (Ref #YSK05)

Imoseyama premiered in 1771 as a puppet play. It dramatizes historical events leading to the establishment of one of Japan's great families, the Fujiwara, and in particular the victory of its founder Fujiwara [Nakatomi] no Kamatari (614-669) over Soga no Iruka in 645.

In the play Iruka is born by supernatural means after his mother drinks the warm blood of a white stag. He attempts to usurp the power of the emperor, intimidating daimyô as if casting a spell to prevent them from entering into alliances with the imperial family. The fisherman Fukashichi is actually Kanawa Imakuni [Kanawa no Gorô], a retainer of Iruka's enemy Fujiwara Kamatari. Fukashichi — posing as a messenger — visits Iruka at his mansion on Mount Mikase to present him with a gift of sake from Kamatari and false assurances that he accepts Iruka's sovereignty. Iruka is suspicious of Kamatari's offer, believing the sake to be poisoned. Fukashichi drinks it to prove its purity, but Iruka has him arrested. Fukashichi survives two attempts on his life while in custody, living on to defeat Iruka's retainers and join Kamatari and others to assassinate Iruka. The final scene of retribution features Fukashichi breaking Iruka's magic spell by playing a flute containing the blood of a sacrificed and very jealous woman named Omiwa, which sends Iruka into a coma.


Kinji printer seal Yoshikuni has depicted Fukashichi's visit to the Mikase mansion, which Iruka had built on a scale to rival an imperial palace. Iruka is celebrating the completion of construction with a splendid banquet when Fukashichi arrives. The role calls for a powerful aragoto-style performance, with several impressive mie, as shown here.

The cutting of the blocks to simulate woodgrain on the stairs is most impressive. The seal below the two publisher's marks on each sheet reads suri Kinji ("printed by Kinji" — see detail at right).

There was a later edition of Yoshikuni's design with recut blocks for a performance in 4/1826 featuring different actors (see OSP in the Bibliography). Our impression is earlier than the one in Ikeda Bunko (see IKBYS-I in the Bibliography).

References: IKBYS-I, no. 317; OSP, no. 90; KNP-6, p. 77; IKB-I, no. 1-413; NKE, p. 217; BRH, p. 176