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Yoshikuni (芳國)

Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as a female heavenly deity (天人) from "Nine changes: New jewels of Japan" (Yoste aratani kokonobake (日本新玉九尾化) in a series of nine quick changes (Kokonobake no uchi 九変化ノ内), at the Kado Theater, Osaka
Jukôdô Yoshikuni ga (寿好堂よし国画)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
37.4 x 25.5 cm
Excellent deluxe edition with metallics and embossing
Very good color and overall condition, unbacked; flattened album crease along left edge
Price (USD/¥):
$535 / Contact us to pay in yen (¥)

Order/Inquiry: YSK26


A kokonobake (nine changes: 九変化) is a series of dances performed by a single actor who never leaves the stage while taking on the roles, ages, genders, occupations, voices, mannerisms, personalities, body language, and costumes of different stage characters. These dances are a type of hengemono (transformation piece: 変化物), a sequence of brief dance pieces in which one actor performs various roles of a contrasting nature. They were frequently accompanied by on-stage musicians and featured hayagawari (quick-costume changes: 早替り) made by a single actor in view of the audience. Clothing with specially sewn, loosely basted threads was pulled off or repositioned to reveal the costume for the next role. Hengemono first appeared at the end of the seventeenth century and were especially popular in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Examples appear in Kamigata at least as early as 1816-1817.


The Tenjin in Yoshikuni's print holds a Chinese flute (shô: 笙), a mouth organ consisting of seventeen pipes set in a circle over a gourd-shaped wind chamber, used especially in Japanese classical court music and dance called gagaku ("elegant music": 雅楽). The shô is based on a very similar but slightly smaller Chinese instrument called the sheng (same ideogram, 笙), in use for about three thousand years. The Tenjin wears an ornamental gold hair ornament in the form of a phoenix, which alludes to the pipes of the shô, said to be arranged symmetrically to look like folded wings of a mythical hôô (phoenix: 鳳凰), whose sound the shô is supposed to imitate. The Tenjin's excessively long sash unfurls and encircles her, animating the portrayal.

The poem in Japanese reads:

Spring / everywhere I look / things prospering. (Miru ho to no mono yutaka nari yomonoharu: 見るほとのもの豊なり四方の春). It is signed Shikan (芝翫), the literary name for Utaemon III.

This impression has especially fine printing, with embossed white clouds that start below the dress and continue up both sides of the sheet. The metallics include a silver-color pigment on the mirror belt clasp. The mottling on the red trailing costume is tarnished (deoxydized) mica.

References: IKBYS-I, no. 364; TWOP, no. 29; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (11.36281 and 11.38834)