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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞) / Toyokuni III (三代豊国)

Print: Ichikawa Danjurō VIII (市川団十郎) as Matsuwakamaru (松若丸)
disguised as a fisherman peasant - probably from the play
Sumidagawa hana no goshozome
("The Sumida River Adorned with Cherry Blossoms" -隅田川花御所染)

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Dates: 1820,created
Dimensions: 10.0 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print
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Signed: Gototei Kunisada ga
五渡亭国貞画
Censor's seal: kiwame

Related links: Tokyo Metropolitan Library - 1853 version by Toyokuni III; Waseda University - another Kunisada print of this scene from 1832; Waseda University - left panel of the same character by Kunisada from an 1814 version of this play; Japan Arts Council - another 1832 Kunisada image of this character, but on a fan print; Hankyu Culture Foundation -center panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation -right panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation -left panel;

Physical description:

A reviewer, Rei Sasaguchi in the Japan Times wrote about this play on March 21, 2013. "It was created for the Ichimura-za theater in Edo in 1814, when kabuki was an extremely popular form of entertainment for the townsfolk. To excite such a fan-based audience, Namboku, who was 59 at the time, brought together familiar elements of several popular noh and kabuki plays and combined them into a new epic.

He borrowed from the legend of Seigen, a young monk from Kiyomizu Temple, who was condemned to hell for falling in love with the princess Sakurahime. He used the story behind Umewakamaru, the son of Kyoto-based Yoshida family, who died tragically at the Sumida River. And he used characters from “Kagamiyama,” a play following the troubles of Iwafuji, Onoe and Ohatsu — maids of the shogun’s household.

To the audience, these familiar plots would have been fun to recognize, but Namboku did more: He made Seigen a young woman — a beautiful princess who after becoming a nun finds herself overwhelmed by physical desires. That transformation allowed him to cast Iwai Hanshiro V, a popular, handsome onnagata (actor specializing in female roles) in the lead role, and it also brought about unusual scenes, such as seeing Hanshiro V play a woman with a shaved head. As a vehicle for Hanshiro V to show off his skills, Namboku’s play presents an emotionally charged woman, one of noble background whose passion, sadness and confusion lead to tragedy."

Later a summary of this play is added to the review.

"The play begins with Matsuwaka... of the Kyoto-based Yoshida family. He is disguised as Yorikuni of the Otomo family, who is the fiance to princess Sakurahime... of the Iruma family. Sakurahime is also the younger sister of Matsukawa’s own betrothed, Hanako...

A fugitive charged with plotting a coup d’etat, Matsuwaka has disguised himself in order to reclaim the Otomo inheritance that has been stripped from Hanako because of her engagement to him.

Meanwhile, at a new Kiyomizu Temple — located in Asakusa for his play — Hanako, who has heard that Matsuwaka has been killed for treason, shaves her head and takes the vows to become the Buddhist nun Seigen. Urged by her maid Iwafuji, she also puts on a pair of sandals that were given to the maid by Sarushima Soda (Onoe Matsuya, 27), an undesirable admirer. Unknown to Seigen, the sandals have been infused with a love potion.

Under the influence of the sandals, Seigen falls asleep at a house near the Tama River while praying to an image of Kanzoen Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara). There, she dreams of making love to Matsuwaka, a violation of the Buddhist commandments. She returns to Kiyomizu Temple, and troubled by her dream, she leaps from a platform of the temple.

Matsuwaka, still disguised as Yorikuni, finds Seigen unconscious and revives her. Seigen, her love reignited, chases him, and in the process brushes aside the untoward advances of Soda.

By Act II, Seigen is living life like a beggar. Her Buddhist robe is torn and she walks with a bamboo cane. In a sad poetic scene, she takes a ferryboat operated by Soda, and they pass another boat on which Matsuwaka sits. As the boats pass each other, Matsuwaka hides his face from Seigen. [The choice of bold type is ours.]

Eventually Seigen, driven sick with sadness, retires to the Myokian cottage, which sits in a field of asaji grass. Sakurahime visits, but Seigen falls into a fit of madness and argues with her. When Soda visits and attempts to seduce her again, Seigen fights off his advances until he eventually kills her.

For the finale, the stage is set on the banks of the Sumida River. Modeled after the famous noh and kabuki play “Dojoji,” it’s an elaborate scene depicting a temple bell surrounded by blossoming cherry trees. The spirit of Seigen, dressed in a bright red kimono, appears when Matsuwaka comes on stage and reveals himself to be the man she loved.

In an angry splash of red, Seigen the ghost emerges from within the temple bell, wreaking havoc until a passing warrior named Awazu no Rokuro... manages to subdue her, just as the play draws to an end."

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This is the center panel of a triptych. Appearing in the other two would be the nun Seigen and the villainous ferryman Sōta.

This scene in a kabuki play is from a tragic and convoluted story of desire and betrayal. The beautiful maiden Hanako is in love with Yoshida Matsuwakamaru. For reasons of his own he pretends to be dead and Hanako is heartbroken and becomes a nun. Later she needs to cross the Sumida River. The ferryman Sōta agrees to transport her. While they are crossing another boat passes nearby. The 'fisherman' in that boat raises his straw hat and Seigen recognizes him as her former love interest, Matsuwakamaru. That is what we are seeing here.

There is a triptych by Kunisada in the Lyon Collection, #1343, showing all three of the panels, each with the figures necessary for this particular scene.

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There is an early Kunisada triptych from 1814 that portrays this same play. See the link we have added.