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Archive: Hokushû (北洲)

Nakamura Utaemon III as (R) tabakokiri (tobacconist) Sankichi and (L) Ichikawa Ebijûrô I as Saito Kuranosuke in Keisei somewake tazuna, Naka Theater, Osaka
Shunkôsai Hokushû ga
No artists' seals
Honsei (Honya Seishichi) and Oka
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e
36.5 x 51.0 cm
Good impression (with special printing effects where the grass covers dragon, and on the dragon's eye.)
Moderately good color; Good condition (unbacked; slightly trimmed; minor creases; two small stray pigment spots on dragon, and near bottom of Ebijuro's kimono)
Price (USD/¥):
Inquiry (Ref #HKS11)

This design celebrates the premiere of the play Keisei somewake tazuna (A courtesan's reins dyed in different colors), written by Nagawa Harusuke and the superstar actor Nakamura Utaemon III (under his pen name Kanazawa Ryûgyoko), was adapted, as were quite a number of other plays, from Koi nyôbô somewake tazuna (Love and a wife's reins dyed in different colors; 1751). The earlier play was itself a revision of Chikamatsu Monzaemon's Tanba yosaku matsuyo no komuro bushi. It has been reported that the accomplished dramatist Harusuke became so enraged at what he believed to be a poorly constructed play that he attacked his co-writer Utaemon with a knife.

The story involves a shop owner and his older brother who stop conspirators from stealing the treasures of the Yurugi daimyô family, and features Sankichi, a tobacco cutter (tobakokiri), who emerges as the hero of the drama. The menacing serpent has been conjured up by the villain Kuronosuke.


This is one of Hokushû's most dramatic compositions. The serpent, a marvel of fantasy, takes center stage and dwarfs Sankichi, who is just emerging from behind the tall grass.

Note: Another impression of this design is featured in the 2005-06 exhibition and catalogue Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage, 1780-1830 at the British Museum, Osaka Museum of History, and Waseda University Theatre Museum.

References: IKBYS-I, no. 114; KHO, no.222; KNP-6, p. 85