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Untitled kabuki theater print: Our Country’s 24 Examples of Filial Piety

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Chikanobu Yoshu, Japanese, (1838–1912)
Untitled kabuki theater print: Our Country’s 24 Examples of Filial Piety, October 1882
Ink on Paper
14 1/4 in. x 28 7/16 in. (36.2 cm x 72.2 cm)

Object Type: Print
Technique: Wood-block Printing
Period: Meiji (Japan, 1869-1912)
Credit Line: Purchased with funds from the Aoki Endowment for Japanese Arts and Cultures
Accession Number: 2004.1.3

Full Title: Danjuro, Sadanji, Kikugoro, and Shikan with a Monkey in "Honcho nijushiko"

Signed: “Yoshu Chikanobu hitsu” with red toshidama seal

Colored ink woodblock triptych on paper.

Object Description
Four of the great Meiji Period kabuki actors are represented in this triptych. Nakamura Shikan IV (1830-1899) in the role of Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) is at far right, next to Ichikawa Danjuro IX (1839-1903) playing the part of Rakuganji Umanosuke. At center encountering an angry monkey is Onoe Kikugoro V (1844-1903) as Yamamoto Kansuke (died 1561). At left is Ichikawa Sadanji I (1842-1904) in the role of Onikoshima Yataro. Such a gathering of stars suggests this print celebrates a kaomise when actors "show their faces" in a specially prepared skit, probably taken from the longer play Honcho nijushiko which detailed the rivalries between the Takeda and Uesugi samurai families in the 16th century.

The historical drama Honcho nijushiko was first written for puppets in 1766 and later became the source for numerous kabuki theater versions, exploring family feuds between the Takeda and Nagai (stage version of the Uesugi) clans. Added to this are other family stories, including that of Yamamoto Kansuke, shown here, who was a brilliant military strategist. Both the Takeda and Nagai clans sought Kansuke's services, and access to his secret book of military tactics. At the Battle of Kawanakashima in 1561, one of the bloodiest battles in Japanese history, Kansuke advised Shingen to position his troops in the dead of night in front of and behind the enemy. However, their opponents saw what was happening and were prepared, launching wave upon wave of troops against the Takeda forces. The 70 year old Kansuke knew his plan had failed and decided to die with heroically, charging alone into enemy lines where he was wounded and then committing stomach cutting / hara-kiri suicide.

This print appears to show the meeting of Kansuke and Shingen to plan the nighttime attack. The dragon painted on the screen behind Kansuke emphasizes his extraordinary powers as a military strategist. The original text for Honcho nijushiko had 5 acts, of which only 2 have survived, so the exact purpose of the monkey is uncertain, but monkeys were often regarded as messengers of the gods, so some supernatural communications might be happening here. The actor playing Kansuke is Kikugoro V, whose symbol was the chrysanthemum flower, woven into Kansuke's jacket.

Hayashi Kichizo

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