Our Country’s 24 Examples of Filial Piety, The Incense Burning Scene, 1898, reprinted by Akiyama Buemon, 01 April 1905
Ink on Paper
13 13/16 in. x 9 1/8 in. (35.08 cm x 23.18 cm)
Signed: “Yoshu Chikanobu” with red toshidama seal
Colored ink woodblock triptych on off-white paper (three oban tate-e).
Yaegaki-hime dances at center holding the sacred helmet known as the Suwa hossho, "Suwa's unchanging essence," given by the kami (deities) of Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture to the Takeda clan. In the kabuki theater repertoire, this is considered one of the three greatest dance sequences. To the left of Yaegaki is Takeda Katsuyori, her beloved, and to the right is Shirasuga Rokuro, a retainer of her father sent to kill Katsuyori.
According to historical traditions, the Takeda lent the Suwa helmet to the Uesugi clan (known as the Nagao family in the kabuki play "Our Country's 24 Examples of Filial Piety"). Takeda Shingen suggested that his son Katsuyori marry Nagao Kenshin's daughter Yaegaki, thus uniting the warrior families and resolving their differences. But when the Nagao wanted to keep the helmet as a talisman and refused to return it, the two leaders had a falling out. At this time both clans were assigned guard duty of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu, who was mysteriously assassinated. The government blamed both families, so in order to clear suspicions, Shingen and Kenshin vowed to find the murderer within three years or sacrifice their only sons.
Various theatrical stories cover the next few years, but when time is up, the young men must lose their heads. A loyal Takeda clan retainer offers his own son's head instead of Katsuyori's, and Shingen orders his son to enter the Nagao residential compound disguised as a gardener named Minosaku in order to retrieve the Suwa helmet. Yaegaki, who thought her betrothed was dead, recognized the true identity of the gardener; Yaegaki's servant urged her to return the Suwa helmet as proof of her love. Kenshin entered the garden and ordered Minosaku to deliver a message to someone on the other side of Lake Suwa. When the young man leaves, Kenshin tells his retainers to kill Minosaku, whom he recognized as Katsuyori. Hearing this, Yaegaki took up the Suwa helmet, intending to deliver it to her beloved, but Lake Suwa was frozen so she could not take a boat to catch up with him. With the helmet in her arms, she crossed a bridge in the garden, and saw the reflection of a fox in the water. "I have heard that the god of Suwa has the fox as his emissary, and if this helmet represents his divine person, then there will be countless fox spirits in attendance. How miraculous, for without doubt they are protecting it." Yaegaki begins a dance, knowing that the fox-fires will guide her safely across the frozen lake.
James R. Brandon and Samuel L. Leiter (ed.), Kabuki Plays on Stage, Volume I Brilliance and Bravado, 1697-1766 (University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2002), pp. 328-352.
Arenie & Henk Herwig, Heroes of the Kabuki Stage (Hotei Press, Amsterdam, 2004), pp. 216-223. Aubrey S. and Giovanna M. Halford, The Kabuki Handbook (Tuttle, Tokyo, 1952), pp. 73-76.
For more information, please refer to the Chikanobu exhibition catalogue.
"Matsuki Heikichi, 1898, reprinted by Akiyama Buemon, 01 April 1905"
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