Artist Biography: The Osaka artist Ittôsai Yoshikoto (一樋齋玉亭芳琴) is virtually unknown except for his geimei (芸名 professional art name used as a primary signature; Yoshikoto) and gô (號 art pseudonym nearly always preceding the geimei; Ittôsai) and this single modest chûban print. The signature reads Edo Kuniyoshi monjin Ittôsai Yoshikoto (Ittôsai Yoshikoto, student of Kuniyoshi in Edo: 江戸國芳門人一樋齋芳琴). Monjin (student: 門人) signatures are not rare, but they are uncommon in Kamigata. When encountered, such signatures provide clues about an artist's origins or lineage. In this instance, we can assume that Yoshikoto was at least for a time located in Edo where he studied with Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川國芳 1798-1861), one of the masters of ukiyo-e print design. However, how Yoshikoto came to produce a small print design for a play in Osaka remains unknown.
Events Depicted: The drama Hana no kumo sakura no akebono (Clouds of flowers at the dawn of Sakura: 花雲佐倉曙), a bunraku (puppet play; 文楽) written by Toyoshima Gyokuwaken (登与島玉和軒) and a co-writer, premiered in 3/1852 at the Kado Theaer in Osaka. It is known as a gimin-mono (plays about self-sacrificing men: 義民物) and was was possibly the last puppet drama written during the Edo period. Gimin-mono feature public-spirited heroes who sacrifice themselves on behalf of an oppressed and suffering peasantry. Staging such plays for bunraku or kabuki became possible only during the Kaei period (嘉永 Feb. 1848 to Nov. 1854). Previously, the shogunate's ban against plays criticizing Tokugawa rule would have shuttered such productions and resulted in severe punishments for theater managers, playwrights, and actors. The fact that any gimin-mono were staged is considered one of the signs that the shogunate was losing its grip on power during the late Edo period.
The story told in Toyoshima's Hana no kumo sakura no akebono is based on one of several variants about a true tale conflated with legend. The traditional version portrays Lord Hotta Umenosuke of Shimosa as a tyrannical ruler whose taxation of his peasants was driving them into famine. The peasants complained to Kiuchi Sôgorô (c. 1605-53), headman of Kôtsu village in Inba province, who made a direct appeal to the shogunate. Such an action was forbidden to a lowly farmer-peasant. Although it seems the shogunate might have intervened on behalf of the peasants, it appears to have executed by crucifixion Kiuchi and his sons (and possibly his wife). Sakura Sôgorô, or better known as Sôgo-sama, is enshrined in the Sôgo-reidô of Tôshô Temple in Narita City.
The first kabuki dramatization, Higashiyama sakura no sôshi (Story of Sakura of Higashiyama: 東山桜荘子); also called Sakura ginminden, Sakura Sôgo (Cherry blossoms of righteousness, Sakura Sôgo), was written for the Edo stage by Segawa Jokô III (瀬川如皐 1806-81), who named his hero Sakura Sogorô (佐倉惣五郎) and reset the events in the fifteenth century. The drama, which was first produced in 8/1851, mixed the new subject matter with conventional scenes of a kowakare (child separation: 小分かれ), senba (torture: 責場), and keren (stage tricks or special effects: 外連) involving ghosts. Hagashiyama sakura no sôshi is considered a groundbreaking drama and prime example of a gimin-mono. The play memorialized in Yoshikoto's print followed Jokô III's plot fairly closely, with the hero's name changed to Asakura Tôgorô.
We are not certain of the moment portrayed by Yoshikoto, but it might be the scene in which Asakura Tôgorô prepares to visit his family for the last time. In this portrayal, Asakura seems to acknowledge the terrible loss that he and his family will suffer due to his self-sacrifice for the peasant cause.
The red cartouche reads Asakura Tôgô using alternate characters for Tôgô (浅倉当吾).
The colors of this print are very well preserved, and margins remain on two sides.
- IKBYS-II, no. 450
- NKE, pp. 126, 161-162
- Phillips, Anne, "The Tale of the Martyr of Sakura," in: Kabuki Plays on Stage: Darkness and Desire, 1804-1864 (vol. 3). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002, (James Brandon and Samuel Leiter, eds.), pp. 220-247.