Kuruwa bunshô (Love letter from the pleasure quarter: 廓文章), written by the great bunraku and kabuki playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (近松門左衛門 1653-1725), premiered in 10/1808 at the Nakamura-za, Edo. Its popular name is "Yoshidaya" or "Yugiri Izaemon." The two-act play was one of many Yûgiri-mono (plays about Yûgiri: 夕霧物) written as sewamono (lit., "everyday pieces" or domestic dramas: 世話物) that were inspired by the real-life death of Yûgiri (夕霧 1654-1678), a celebrated pleasure-woman of the ôgiya (扇屋) in Shinmachi, Osaka. Fujiya Izaemon (ふじや[藤屋]伊左衛門) was her wealthy young lover. Chikamatsu first dramatized their tale in his Yûgiri nagori no shôgatsu (Farewell to Yûgiri at the New Year: 夕霧名残の正月) in 1678, a month after her actual death. Some kabuki scholars consider the 1678 play as the first sewamono in Japanese popular theater.
The plot features Fujiya Izaemon, who has been disinherited due to his reckless behavior in the Shinmachi pleasure quarter and his love for the infamous courtesan Ôgiya Yûgiri of the Yoshidaya brothel. Making matters worse, the lovers have a child together. Izaemon roams the streets aimlessly, lost in his thoughts and desire for Yûgiri, when he learns that she, too, yearns to see him. Later, however, he also hears a rumor that she has a rich patron (the samurai Aira Hiraoka, who has also adopted the lovers' child). The penniless Izaemon finally manages to gain entry to the Yoshidaya, where he imagines Yûgiri is with her new client. She joins Izaemon and greets him affectionately, but he has worked himself into such a state that his anger will not permit him to return her affections. Yûgiri waits patiently for his anger to gradually subside when, serendipitously, news reaches Izaemon that his mother has reinstated his inheritance. Messengers deliver to him a senryô-bako (box containing 1,000 gold coins: 千両箱) and other gifts so that he might ransom Yûgiri from her servitude, whereupon the house maids begin preparations for a wedding. Adding to their good fortune, their child is also returned to them.
Today, Kuruwa bunshô is performed in a manner closer to dance than to full-scale dramatic acting.
This is one of those fascinating images for which substantial changes were made after the original edition. Often referred to as ireki (inserted wood, 入木), its purpose was to correct errors or make revisions in a key block or color block by cutting out, or adding to, a part of the original design and inserting pieces of wood carved with alternate details. In the present instance, an earlier production had taken place in 3/1861 at the Chikugo Theater in Osaka, with Arashi Rikaku II (嵐璃珏) in the role of Fujiya Izaemon (藤屋伊左衛門). However, two years later (3/1863), Kitaoka Gatô II (片岡我当) performed the role at the Kado Theater, Osaka. It was this second staging that prompted the publisher to recut the existing woodblocks for an updated portrait. Thus, the most important change involved the swapping out of faces, from Arashi Rikaku II to Kitaoka Gatô II, along with their names inscribed in the lower red cartouches. Moreover, the earlier edition included two cartouches at the upper right, one with the title Matsu ("Pine," 松) and the other with the series Mitate shôchikubai no uchi (Matches for pine, bamboo, and plum, 見立松竹梅ノ内); these two cartouches were removed for the 3/1863 edition.
Otherwise, changes were made to the kimono and obi (sash) patterns, including the top robe for which the earlier tachibana (Mandarin orange, 橘) crest for the Arashi lineage of actors was changed to ginkgo leaves. The calligraphy on the robe was also recut. This type of kimono pattern was called hogo-zome ("scratched-pad design" or "calligraphy scrap paper," 反故染), a textile dyeing pattern found in the Heian period but especially popular during the Edo period; also called hoguzome. These fashionable patterns were made to look like a paper kimono worn by a poor man, made from tough kôzo paper fortified with tannin. Indeed, in the present play, Fujiya Izaemon is destitute for much of the action and wears a kamiko (paper kimono, 紙子).
Yoshitaki's portrait of Kataoka Gatô is intriguing, as he stands in an distinctly twisted posture with his head slightly displaced from what should have been a more realistic pose. Interesting, too, is the emphatic receding perspective of the brothel building.
The image is full size, with the top and left margins still intact.
For more about this artist, see Yoshitaki Biography.
- IKBYS-5, no. 92 (earlier state)
- KNP-7, p. 98 (3/1861 staging) and p. 110 (3/1863 staging)
- Museum of Fine Arts Boston (11.35512), earlier state
- Ritsumeikan University (arcUP0267) later state