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Archive: Ashiyuki (芦幸)

Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Ishikawa Goemon (石川五右衛門) in Keisei chigoga fuchi (A courtesan and deep water at Chigo, けいせい稚児淵), Kado Theater, Osaka
Ashiyuki ga ((芦幸画)
No artist seal
Honsei (Honya Seishichi: 本や清七)
(H x W)
Ôban nishiki-e
38.1 x 26 .0 cm
Excellent color and very good condition (overall excellent), unbacked; purple pigment somewhat faded in places, small restored wormholes in two corners, paper flaw along top edge.
Price (USD/¥):

The Chigo Deep Water (Chigo ga fuchi) in the play title Keisei chigogafuchi (A courtesan and deep water at Chigo: けいせい稚児淵) was located off the island of Enoshima. It was there in the twelfth century that a young acolyte or temple page (chigo) named Shiragikumaru committed suicide rather than choose between two priests who vied for his love. The play Keisei chigogafuchi (A courtesan and deep water at Chigo: けいせい稚児淵), along with Chigogafuchi koi no shiranami (Chigo deep water and the white waves of love: 児渕恋白浪), combined the legends of the outlaw Ishikawa Goemon with a revenge tale involving Shiragikumaru (renamed Sutewakamaru in the kabuki dramas). The conflated saga includes Sutewakamaru vowing to avenge the death of Takechi Mitsuhide who had been slain by Mashiba Hisayoshi (the theatrical namesake for the historical shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 1537-1598). This links the Sutewakamaru plot with other Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川五右衛門物), the legendary fugitive outlaw during the reign of Hideyoshi. Late in the play, Sutewakamaru transforms into Goemon.

The historical Ishikawa Goemon was a notorious rônin (floating man, i.e., masterless samurai: 浪人) during the reign of the shôgun Hideyoshi. At age sixteen he murdered three men while attempting to steal from his master. After his escape, he lived as a bandit for the next two decades until, in 1594, he was finally captured during a failed attempt to kill Hideyoshi. Goemon met a grisly end by being boiled in oil.

The theatrical Goemon was transformed into a hero — fearless, elusive, and endowed with magical powers. The first staging of Goemon's exploits occurred in the 1680s. A century later, Kinmon gosan no kiri (The golden gate and paulownia crest: 金門五三桐), written by Namiki Gohei I, premiered in 1788 as a five-act drama (it was renamed Sanmon gosan no kiri for its premiere in Edo in 1800). It recounts Goemon's efforts to take revenge against Mashiba Hisayoshi (a pseudonym for the historical Hideyoshi), the enemy of both his adoptive and natural fathers. The gosan ("five, three [of paulownia]") in the title refers to the five flowers on the three stems above the paulownia (kiri: 桐) leaves, Hideyoshi's particular version of the kiri crest (visible on each sleeve), for centuries symbolic of imperial and shogunal power.

For information about the artist, see Ashiyuki Biography.


In this impressive full-length portrait, Utaemon III carries a large chest on his back. His black robe is patterned with chess pieces (shôgi, 将棋) reading "Dragon King" (Ryûô, 龍王), inscribed in either regular (kaisho, 楷書) or cursive (sôsho, 草書) characters.

This print is quite rare. There happens to be an impression, formerly in the Anne van Biema Collection, now in the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C.; (see ref. below); otherwise, there appear to be no impressions in the usual standard references.

References: VBM, no. 44, pp. 142-143