Bust portraits of Ichikawa Shōchō II as Umegawa [梅川] and Kataoka Gadō IV as Chūbei [忠兵衛] in the play 
<i>Meido no Hikyaku</i> ('The Courier from Hell' - 冥途の飛脚)

Natori Shunsen (名取春仙) (artist 1886 – 1960)

Bust portraits of Ichikawa Shōchō II as Umegawa [梅川] and Kataoka Gadō IV as Chūbei [忠兵衛] in the play Meido no Hikyaku ('The Courier from Hell' - 冥途の飛脚)


10.5 in x 15.5 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese woodblock print
Signed: Shunsen ga (春仙画)
Seals: Shun and Sen
Natori seal of approval in lower right
Waseda University
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo - in b & w
Lyon Collection - another copy of this print
Toledo Museum of Art One of Shunsen's finest double portraits, set against a grey metallic speckled ground (a device used earlier to great effect by Utamaro). See 'Toledo Catalogue' 1930 #150. There is still a copy of this print in the collection of that museum.


"Chūbei, the disowned son of a farmer, works as an Osaka money courier. He has spent his fortune on Umegawa, the young prostitute he loves. He embezzles, and later repays, a deposit for Umegawa's bond from Hachiemon, a wealthy and malicious client who knows of Chūbei's love for the beautiful prostitute. When Hachiemon finds out that his money has been misappropriated, he plans to foil Chūbei by paying for Umegawa himself. Meanwhile Chūbei tells the anxious Umegawa that he is unable to come up with the money.

"Chūbei is still in the establishment when brothel manager Jiemon urges Umegawa to go with Hachiemon, who arrives and demands Umegawa. The faithful Umegawa stalls, hoping her lover will save her. A principled man, Jiemon opts to gamble on Chūbei's return. Hachiemon scathingly insults Chūbei, who is eavesdropping nearby. Chūbei confronts Hachiemon and breaks the seal of a packet of government funds he is carrying, sending gold coins clattering to the floor. (This was a serious offence, and productions vary on its deliberateness.) Chūbei pays for Umegawa and hurries her away, terrified that his crime will be discovered. Meanwhile, Hachiemon finds the packet's official seal and reports the theft. A manhunt is launched.

"Chūbei tells Umegawa of the situation and she begs for three days together before they commit suicide. The lover's travel to Chūbei's home village. Umegawa pleads with Chūbei's father to see his son one last time, but he refuses. Umegawa persists, blindfolding him so that he can bid his son farewell without setting eyes on him. The lovers are eventually apprehended."

Quoted from: Stars of the Tokyo Stage, p. 100.


Edition of 150.


This is a scene from a play which was first performed in 1796. It is based on an early 18th century puppet play by Chikamatsu, The Courier from Hell.


Scholten Japanese Art wrote of this theme: "There are a number of plays which tell the tragic love story of Umegawa and Chubei, the most famous of which include Umegawa Chubei (Umegawa and Chubei), Ninokuchi Mura (named after the home town of Chubei), Ko Bikyaku Yamato Orai (The Love Messenger of Yamato), and Fuingiri (The Broken Seal). All tell some variation of an episode from Osaka in 1710, in which a courier named Chubei was executed after using money entrusted to his care to help his lover, the courtesan Umegawa. In theatrical reimaginations of the event, the couple escapes prosecution and runs off. In some versions, the play concludes with the couple's double suicide, though in others the lovers embark on a journey, their doomed fate implied but not enacted. Theatrical productions of this tale were staged in Osaka and in Kyoto only one year after the historical execution. These were the first of many, as the story would come to be a popular one of both the puppet and the kabuki theaters."



1. In Stars of the Tokyo Stage, p. 101.

2. In color in 名取春仙, 1991, #28, p. 40.

3. In a small black and white reproduction in Modern Japanese Prints by Dorothy Blair, Toledo Museum of Art, 1997 edition, #150.


There is another print in the Lyon Collection, #248, that features Chūbei, Umegawa and Magoemon, Chūbei's father. That one is by Toyokuni III.
modern prints (shin hanga - 新版画) (genre)
actor prints (yakusha-e - 役者絵) (genre)
Ichikawa Shōchō II (二代目市川松蔦: from January 1912 to August 19, 1940) (actor)
Kataoka Gadō IV (四代目片岡我童) (actor)