Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Ken game of Three Countries - Sangoku ken (三国拳)

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Dates: 1849 - 1853,created
Dimensions: 9.9 in,14.1 in,Overall dimensions

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Publisher: Kogaya Katsugorō (Marks 262 - seal 17-006)
Censor seals: Hama and Magome

Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - with different text and title; Waseda University; University of Vienna - a closely related, but different version;

Physical description:

The picture presentation of the hand play, 'San-goku Ken' which is rather a rare subject for ukiyo-e. The figures under the title indicate China is stronger than India, India is stronger than Japan, Japan is stronger than China. (rare subject)


According to the Institut für Ostasienwissenschaften der Universität Wien the text reads:

Omae wa onna no na de o-Ise-san (ogande) / kagura ga (suzu o furu) o-suki de (taiko) toppiki pii no pii (fue) shishi wa (te nite shishi) / Morokoshi Kōshisama tenten Tenjiku (te o furu) / o-Shakasama / maruku (te de ōkiku maru o koshiraeru) osamaru / sangoku-ken nan no kotta (ryōte de ogamu) jabujabu o-hige o nadenade kururi to mawatte ikken shiyo

You are a woman, by the name O-Ise (pray)
You love (ring small bells) the shrine dance (taiko drum) toppiki pii no pii (flute)
The lion (form lion with hands) comes from China (Morokoshi)
So does Confucius (Kōshi)
From tenten Tenjiku (India) (wave) comes Shakyamuni
Everything comes to a happy end (form large circle with both hands) sangoku-ken
What do you say to this? (pray with both hands) Jabujabu
Stroke the beard
Let's turn once and play ken

Top - Morokoshi Tenjiku ni katsu (China defeats India), middle - Tenjiku Nihon ni katsu (India defeats Japan), bottom - Nihon Kara ni katsu (Japan defeats China)

This print is a nishiki-e used to study the song and dance of the sangoku-ken (three-country-ken), which was played during the performance of the play Shinki ikken tori no hatsu koe on New Year's of Kaei 2 (1849) at the Ichimura-za kabuki theater. Furthermore, there are also nishiki-e with the text of the sangoku-ken song beginning with “Morokoshi no Kōshi wa” (Confucius from China).

Some pre-announcing prints with the two censorship seals (Yoshimura, Muramatsu) of December of Kaei 1 (1848), one month before the performance, also depict both songs. One can assume that the song with the text “Omae onna no na de O-Ise-san” (You are a woman, by the name O-Ise) was more popular because the prints released after the performance with that song and dance were greater in number.

The three countries in the three-country-ken refer to Japan (Amaterasu Ōmikami), China (Confucius) and India (Shakyamuni). After song and dance, a ken is played with a three-sided blockade, in which Japan defeats China, China defeats India and India defeats Japan. This sangoku-ken was as popular as the totetsuru-ken, which was performed on New Year's of Kōka 4 (1847).

The names of the actors are:
Shakyamuni – Nakamura Utaemon IV
Amaterasu Ōmikami – Ichimura Uzaemon XII
Confucius – Seki Sanjūrō III


There is another copy of this print in a variant form in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden.