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Archive: Yoshikuni (芳國)

Arashi Kichisaburô II and Nakamura Utaemon III, Osaka
Yoshikuni ga

Artist seal: None

Chû (Ariharadô Chûbei) and Toshishin (Toshikuraya Shinbei)
circa 6/1821
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.5 x 26.2 cm
Very good (deluxe edition with metallics)
Moderately good color (slight fading); Good condition (unbacked; vertical album crease along left edge; some soiling; expertly filled binding holes; a few small creases and marks
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry (Ref #YSK12)


Arashi Kichisaburô II (1769-1821) and Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838) were involved in what was arguably the most celebrated rivalry in the history of kabuki. Fueled by the fierce loyalties of their respective fan clubs (hiiki renchû), and no doubt by theater managements all-too-willing to take advantage of controversy and inflamed passions, the competition thrived in the Naka, Kado, and smaller theaters, lasting from 1805-1821. It ended only when Kichisaburô died in the ninth month of 1821 — just after the two superstars had finally reconciled and planned to perform together after the long hiatus.

For an excellent article about this celebrated rivalry, see the Bibliography for the RRT reference below.


This design features the two actors in a special design announcing their reconciliation. In a gesture of mutual respect, they each wear kimonos decorated with both crests, Kichisaburô's tachibana (mandarin orange) and Utaemon's tsuru (crane). Kichisaburô holds an ôgi (fan), as well as a surimono, again decorated with their crests. The song mentions the end of the rivalry, their intention to wash away hostilities in the Yodo River, and their plan to perform together. Beyond its value as an early kamigata-e, this print is important as a historical document of one of the more fascinating stories in kabuki.

The cartouche at the top right is formed by stylized hiragana for "yo," the first character of the artist's name. The round red seal above the publisher Ariharadô's mark is uinidentified, although it is found on a few designs from the early 1820s.

Note: Another impression of this design is featured in the 2005-06 exhibition and catalogue "Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage, 1780-1830" at the British Museum, Osaka Museum of History, and Waseda University Theatre Museum.

References: IKBYS-I, no. 325; RRT, pp. 52-64