Yoshu Chikanobu (aka Chikanobu),
Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai [The Ghost of Nikki Danjo],
Ink on Paper
14 5/8 in. x 28 1/4 in. (37.15 cm x 71.76 cm)
Purchase by the Aoki Endowment for Japanese Arts and Cultures
Text banner in the upper right of the right panel. Signature and seal in the lower left of the left panel. Text printed in the lower left margin of the left panel.
Colored ink woodblock triptych on off-white paper (three oban tate-e).
Series: Bamboo Joints, Cellar Scene
This scene is from the 2nd act of the long play "The Precious Incense and Autumn Flowers of Sendai" (Meiboku Sendai hagi), first written in 1777 for the Osaka kabuki stage in and then greatly expanded in 1785 for the puppet theater, the reverse of the usual way plays developed. Over the years, many scenes were added and dropped, but this story of political intrigues in the Date clan of Sendai continues to be an annual kabuki favorite. Nikki Danjo, the figure at left in this print, is one of the great villains of the kabuki repertoire.
An attempted coup in 1660 was the basis for the drama, but censorship laws required that the names and dates be changed, so the kabuki play takes place in Kyoto during the Onin Wars of the mid 16th century instead of Sendai in the 17th century. Prior to the scene shown here, the wet-nurse Masaoka has been loyally guarding the young son of a local daimyo (feudal lord), even though her own son mistakenly dies from poison food meant for the other boy (see 2005.1.21). Masaoka obtains a scroll that lists the names of those involved in the murderous plot, but in a violent struggle with another female attendant, the scroll is dropped on the floor, and a giant rat runs off with it.
The warrior Arajishi Otoko-no-suke, who is also devoted to the young lord, has been hiding under the mansion floorboards in order to protect the boy. Otoko-no-suke sees the rat, steps on its tail and tries to grab the scroll. He hits the rat's forehead with the steel handle of his fan, but the beast escapes. At this moment on stage, the boy actor dressed as a rat disappears through a trapdoor, and a man dressed in a gray (rat colored) kimono rises out of the stage floor, with a scroll in his mouth. This is Nikki Danjo, one of the evil conspirators. Danjo throws a dagger at Otoko-no-suke and then does mysterious hand gestures to make himself invisible.
Chikanobu's print records the moment after the dramatic transformation, as Nikki Danjo's body begins to disappear. Masaoka holds out a lantern to help Otoko-no-suke, but Danjo is already fading into the darkness.
James R. Brandon and Samuel L. Leiter (ed.), Kabuki Plays on Stage, Volume II Villany and Vengence 1773-1799 (University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2002), pp. 48-71. Aubrey S. & Giovanna M. Halford, The Kabuki Handbook (Charles E. Tuttle, Tokyo, 1956), pp. 212-220.
Arendie & Henk Herwig, Heroes of the Kabuki Stage (Hotei Publishing, Amsterdam, 2004), pp. 242-249.
For more information, please refer to the Chikanobu exhibition catalogue.
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