Artist: Ryūsai Shigeharu (柳斎重春)

Print: Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Shōki the Demon Queller [鍾馗] -
from the series of seven quick-change roles performed by this actor (七変化之内)

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Dates: 1829,created
Dimensions: 10.25 in,14.75 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print

Signed: Ryūsai Shigeharu
Publisher: Wataya Kihei (Marks 579 - seal 25-056)

Related links: Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts; Hankyu Culture Foundation - with additional text in the upper right;

Physical description:

Shōki, the demon queller, is printed entirely in shades of red. As with most conventional ukiyo-e prints there are no black outlines. This image is illustrated in color in Schwaab's Osaka Prints on page 139.

Shōki prints in red were often used as talismans against smallpox.

"The color red was used in prints and other smallpox illustrations because it was believed that Hoso-Kami, the god of smallpox, felt strongly about this color. When the skin rash was purple, the patient’s condition was considered serious. If the rash turned red, the patient would recover safely. Shoni-Hitsuyo-Yoikugusa, written by Gyuzan Kazuki in 1798 (the 10th year of Kansei), recommended that children with smallpox be clothed in red garments and that those caring for the sick also wear red.

'Hoso-e' color prints against smallpox were used in prayers to boost the morale of ill children. After the patients recovered, these pictures were burned or floated down the river. Therefore, few examples are left of prints in which the color red predominates. The pictures drawn as protection against smallpox depicted heroic figures to give people courage against smallpox." This information is quoted from the National Center for Biotechnology Information's 'Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases', July, 2002.


The information quoted below is taken directly from the Freer/Sackler Galleries online site. It reiterates and reinforces what we have already said.

"Shoki (Chinese, Zhong Kui), a great exorcist, was a popular deity in China from the middle of the Tang dynasty (618-906), and was known in Japan from the Kamakura period. He is said to have appeared in a dream to the ailing Chinese emperor Xuanzong (713-756), to whom he explained that he was a scholar who had committed suicide a century earlier for failing the imperial examinations, but out of gratitude for an honorable burial granted by an earlier emperor, he had vowed to rid the world of mischievous demons. The emperor, who recovered immediately from his illness, ordered a court painter to paint Zhong Kui just as he appeared in the dream. In Edo period Japan, images of Shoki were hung in homes for the Boys'Festival on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month; some were painted red as talismans against smallpox."


The inscription along the right side is by Utaemon III using his poetry name Baigyoku. It reads: かけろふのうつるか如しはるの水 梅玉


Illustrated in Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata Yakusha-e Shusei, (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints) volume 2, Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka, 1998, no. 118.


There are clearly at least two editions of this print.

In both the Achenbach and Lyon Collection examples there is a clearly visible, light-colored, billowing crest behind the figure of Shoki. This enhances the swirling dramatic motif of the actor himself. However, the print listed in the Ikeda Bunko reference above this element is not as apparent. Also, that print has an additional, lengthy text in the upper right corner. This leads us to believe that the examples in the Lyon Collection and at the Achenbach Foundation are from a different edition.