Unpacking 3 deliveries from Japan

Since Easter I have had 3 deliveries from Japan but didn’t have the time or space to unpack them and photograph them all. So this week I have blitzed through them, taking photos and moving them from whatever they were sent in to my own paper folders and boxes. As you can imagine it was like Christmas and Birthday all in one! I’ve brought out some of my favourites and the rest are in a gallery below.

This is probably my favourite of the batch, though at first glance you may wonder why, when there are more colourful and innovative designs. The reason is, ironically, the design of the frame in the background featuring a river, plants and ducks … and another artist’s signature! The other artist is in fact Chikayoshi, Kunichika’s wife or girlfriend at the time and collaborations between them are surprisingly rare. I only managed to find a handful online. So, while Kunichika designed the overall composition, Chikayoshi was asked to paint the river scene. Collaborations like this are fairly common, where the publisher got a famous yakusha-e artist to design the main scene with the actors (because presumably he knew how to paint their faces off by heart) and then got a landscape artist such as Hiroshige II to paint some scenery behind the actors.   

This delivery featured quite a lot of duplicates – I try to buy a few of each of the nicer prints because I want to see variations between print runs and also to judge how the prints have aged/worn over time. Here they are:

Kunichika – Nakamura Sagisuke, Nakamura Nakatarō, Onoe Kikugorō V & Nakamura Shikan IV in the play “Katamigusa Yotsuya Kaidan” (Keepsake Flower: The Ghost Stories at Yotsuya), staged at the Ichimura-za theatre from 12th October 1884

I’m not sure what significance the bricks have in the background to the plot but this kind of motif was typical of the Meiji period because it used a classically Western item (red bricks) juxtaposed with classical kabuki actors.  

actors in the play “Akegarasu Yuki no Urazato”, staged at the Nakamura-za theatre from 7th of the 9th month 1872

This design is presumably for a variation of “Akegarasu yume no awayuki” with Tokijirō waiting in the tree to rescue his lover. 

Onoe Kikugorō V, Nakamura Shikan IV, Nakamura Fukusuke IV & Bandō Minosuke in the plat “Yayoi Zakura ​Shiranui Monogatari​ – The Tale of Shiranui (Abundant Sakura version)”, staged at the Nakamura-za theatre from 29th of the 2nd month 1872

another pair

I haven’t worked anything out about this print but I think the colours are just so vibrant – it’s spectacular. Not to mention the use of a Hokusai-type wave on the screen in the middle background with bokashi fades across each page. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about it. 

At first glance this didn’t look particularly special – it’s a Meiji-red background print. But when you look closely the red is actually made up from several shades of colour to illustrate autumnal leaves. Also the 3 princesses (denoted by their metallic headdresses) have the horrible grey paint that stains and rots the pages but in this case the damage isn’t too bad.  

Kunichika – Various actors, Sawamura Tosshō II & Sawamura Tanosuke III in the play “Kokusen’ya Sugata no Utsushi-e” (国性爺姿写真鏡) staged at the Murayama-za theatre from 27th of the 1st month 1872
Kunichika – Sawamura Hikimaru, Sawamura Tosshō II, Bandō Hikosaburō V, Sawamura Tanosuke III, Bandō Tarō & Nakamura Jusaburō in the play “Kokusen’ya Sugata no Utsushi-e” (国性爺姿写真鏡) staged at the Murayama-za theatre from 27th of the 1st month 1872

I bought these 2 prints as one of the characters is wearing a modern, western-design hat, contrasting with the costumes of other characters in either Chinese or Japanese clothing. As luck would have it (or perhaps design?) both turned out to be of the same play and even the same performance. Interestingly, the utsushi-e in the title refers to the “magic lantern”, which was the technological entertainment innovation of the age. 

Kunichika – Kawarasaki Kunitarō I, Yamanaka Shikazō, Ichimura Kakitsu IV (Onoe Kikugoro V), Bandō Shinzaemon & Sawamura Tanosuke III in the premier of the play “Keisei Soga Kuruwa Kagami” (Mirror of the Soga Tales from the Pleasure Quarters), staged at the Ichimura-za theatre from 27th second month 1867

Lastly, I just had to have this print when I saw that one of the junior courtesans was painting spectacles on the other. The playfulness of the image is delightful. 

Kunisada III (Hosai) – Nakamura Fukusuke IV as Benten Oteru & Onoe Kikugorō V as Akashi no Shimazō in the play “Shima Chidori Tsuki no Shiranami”, staged at the Kabuki-za theatre from May 1900

Ahh, ok then just one more, as you asked! I loved this simple and dramatic image, contrasting the cold grey sea and the man clinging for dear life to the rock, with the red-coloured, round call-out showing the good courtesan Oteru.  

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