The play Katakiuchi nitô no eiyûki (A tale of revenge and great courage on two islands: 復讐二島英勇記) was based on the historical Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584-1645; 宮本武蔵), whose name meant "Storehouse of military knowledge." Also an author, Musashi wrote Gorin no sho (The Book of Five Rings: 五輪書), a treatise on military tactics, strategy, and philosophy. He was a legendary swordsman and the son of the celebrated fencing master Yoshioka Tarozaemon, a retainer of the Ashikaga shôgun Yoshiteru. Musashi was a bold and reputedly reckless adventurer, although he survived armed combat more than 60 times and died a natural death. Katakiuchi nitô no eiyûki was one of many popular tales of vengeance and retribution, an example of the theatrical genre of "revenge plays" called katakiuchi mono (敵討物) or adauchi mono (仇打ち物). In one such incident, Musashi avenged the murder of his father by despatching his killer with a wooden sword, a lethal weapon in the hands of a master swordsman. Musashi's exploits took him into the mountains during winter, where he is often depicted, as in Ashiyuki's design, carrying or wearing a straw hat and padded jacket.
For information about the artist, see Ashiyuki Biography.
The Kabuki nenpyô (see KNP reference below) mentions that in one scene, Rikan exited the main stage by walking down the hanamichi (runway: 花道), and when half-way down he gestured as if descending into a valley. That is the same scene shown here in Ashiyuki's design. This is also the moment shortly before Musashi encounters Kasahara Rôô (the legendary fencing master Kasawara Bokuden), from whom he will learn advanced fighting techniques.
The poems are signed by Rikkaen and Rikan, respectively, reading:
Na no hana ni / hikkurumetaru / sekai kana (The whole world is covered / by the yellow flowers / of the rapeseed: なの花にひつくるめたる世界かな).
Yuku michi o / saguri ashi nari / oborotsuki (Walking along the path, / I feel my way with my feet, / night of the veiled moon: 行道をさくりあしなりおほろ月).
This is one of the most admired works by Ashiyuki and is much sought after by collectors. Our impression is the finest we've ever seen, with miraculous preservation of the hand-applied gofun (shell powder, calcium carbonate pigment: 胡粉) splashed on for the bright white snowflakes. Virtually always with ukiyo-e prints, gofun is found substantially rubbed off and darkened, as it more or less sits atop rather than being absorbed deep into the paper. Our impression also has superb glittering-copper pigment on Rikan's robes (see detail on right). The hand-stamped seals of two publishers, Honsei (Honya Seishichi: 本屋清七) and Kawaji (河治) — a joint production that appears to have preceded a slightly later edition from Iden (Izutsuya Denbei 井筒屋傳兵衞 — see ASY15 and ASY26), which lacks the metallics and substitutes a blue colorant for the intricate pattern applied in copper pigment. Moreover, this design was carved by the distinguished block-cutter Yama Kasuke (山嘉助), which adds further cachet to this impression.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 301; KNP-6, p. 251; IKB-I, no. 3-61; SCH, no. 146; PPO, no. 69; OSP, p. 154, no. 146