The Edo/Tokyo artist Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延 1838–1912; also Yôshû Chikanobu 楊洲周延 and real name Hashimoto Naoyoshi 橋本直義) had training in Kanô-school painting, but he preferred ukiyo-e. He began his studies with a disciple of Keisai Eisen (渓斎英泉 1790-1848). He then joined the studio of Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi (歌川國芳 1798-1861) around 1852, using the name Yoshitsuru. After Kuniyoshi's death, he studied with Utagawa Kunisada (歌川國貞 1786-1865), sometimes signing as Yôshû (楊洲), and finally with Toyohara Kunichika (豊原國周 1835-1900), calling himself Isshunsai Chikanobu and focusing on actor portraiture. Once established, Chikanobu created print designs with many themes, foremost among them bijinga (美人画 pictures of beautiful women) and sensô-e (戦争絵 pictures of war or warrior prints), includiing many triptychs depicting events from the aforementioned Boshin War as well as the Satsuma Rebellion (Seinan Sensô: 西南戦争) in 1877. Other subjects included historical scenes, kabuki, famous places (meisho 名所絵), portrayals of the emperor, and pasttimes of women. As a late master of bijin-ga, he produced numerous images and series of beauties in single sheets, diptychs, and triptychs.
Not only was Chikanobu a noted print designer, but he was also a retainer of the Sakakibara clan of Takada Domain in Echigo Province. As a Tokugawa loyalist, he fought (contemporary accounts indicate he conducted himself bravely and honorably) for the shogunate as a member of an elite force called the Shôgitai (彰義隊, Battalion to Demonstrate Righteousness) in the Battle of Ueno (Ueno Sensô: 上野戦争) on July 4, 1868 and in the Battle of Hakodate (Hakodate Sensô: 函館戦争) between from December 4, 1868 to June 27, 1869. The latter was the last stage in the armed rebellion called the Boshin War (Boshin Sensô: 戊辰戦争) between shogunate and imperial armies. Following the Shôgitai's surrender, he was remanded along with others to the authorities in the Takada domain. In 1875, he traveled to Tokyo and found work as an illustrator for the Kaishin Shinbun (Progressive Newspaper 改進新聞). At the same time, he produced woodblock prints in the late ukiyo-e style, as mentioned above.
Note: There was an earlier Toyohara Chikanobu (popular name Toriyama Shinji) who used the art pseudonym Ichiôsai (一鶯齋). He was a minor artist of the Hasegawa school (not related to the Hasegawa Sadanobu family of artists) working in the Kanô style of painting who designed actor portraits for hagoita (battledores: 羽子板) and happened to teach Toyohara Kunichika (豊原國周 1835-1900) in his early years (around 11 or 12 years of age). Kunichika, in turn, taught the later Toyohara (Yôshû) Chikanobu, the artist who designed our present triptych. Thus Ichiôsai Chikanobu was the source of the Toyohara art name for both Kunichika and Yôshû Chikanobu.
All three roles depicted in Chikanobu's triptych are included in the play Tôkaidô [Azumakaidô] Yotsuya kaidan (Ghost story along the eastern sea road at Yotsuya: 東海道四谷怪談), the most popular of all kabuki ghost plays and an 1825 masterpiece by the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV. The main theme involves Oiwa's husband Tamiya Iemon — a down-on-his-luck rônin (lit., "wave man" or masterless samurai: 浪人) reduced to making oil-paper umbrellas — despairs over his ill fortune, made worse by Oiwa, who is struggling in her postpartum convalescence and nursing a newborn child. He finds temptation in a neighbor's young daughter named Oume, and is persuaded by her grandfather to give Oiwa a "medicinal potion" — actually a poison — meant to disfigure her so that Iemon will divorce her. Oiwa drinks the potion and her face takes on a monstrous countenance. Soon after, she suffers an accidental death brought on by jealousy and rage. Her ghost relentlessly haunts Iemon, tracking him down in a hermitage at Hebiyama ("Snake Mountain") where he is taking refuge. He is finally slain by another rônin aided by the sister of a servant he has murdered.
However, the present scene appears to be from Act I soon after Iemon has a violent argument with Yotsuya Samon, his father-in-law, and then murders the older man. Meanwhile, Naosuke, a medicine peddler, desires Osode, the sister of Oiwa and the wife of Satô Yomoshichi. Naosuke discovers Osode in a brothel run by Takuetsu (宅悦) where he is interrupted by Yomoshichi. Unable to pay the fee demanded by Takuetsu, Naosuke is driven out of the brothel while being mocked by Yomoshichi and Osode. At the same time that Iemon commits his murder, Naosuke kills Okuda Shôzaburô, his former master, whom he mistakes for Yomoshichi. Iemon and Naosuke then deceive Oiwa and Osode into believing that they will avenge the two deaths. Iemon reunites with Oiwa, and Naosuke enters into a common-law marriage with Osode.
Our impression of Chikanobu's triptych is especially fine and very well preserved, with tasteful application of the bright Meiji-period colors.
- Bruce Coats: Chikanobu: Modernity and nostalgia in Japanese Prints. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2006.
- Leiter, Samuel: New Kabuki Encyclopedia — A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki jiten. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997, p. 651. [NKE]
- Newland, Amy Reigle: Time present and time past: Images of a forgotten master, Toyohara Kunichika 1835-1900. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 1999, pp. 7 and 33 (endnote 5).