Identify Japanese woodblock print of kabuki actor, possibly by Kunichika, possibly set on Tokaido Road
July 30, 2011 9:06 PM   Subscribe

Need help identifying this Japanese woodblock print of a kabuki actor. I think the artist is Kunichika, and the print is set somewhere on the Tôkaidô Road. At the top of the page is a large box of Japanese text -- I'm hoping someone can read this, or otherwise identify any hints about the location, actor and character. (Two more translatable things inside)

Here is the signature cartouche. Based on similar signatures elsewhere, I think it's Toyohara Kunichika. Possibly Hiroshige III did the landscape section behind the actor?

On the left side there is this additional line of text. Any ideas what that says?

I think it's from the same series as these prints (see below) at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which are described as part of "the series The Tôkaidô Road: One Look Worth a Thousand Ryô (Tôkaidô hitome senryô)".

I think each print in the series is set at a different station/town along the Tôkaidô Road, so landscape features might be helpful in identifying it if the text doesn't. Here's a list of some locations along the Tokaido Road. (I think that list is not comprehensive, because there are supposed to be 53 stations. But if the print looks like one of those locations to you, please let me know!)

(Examples of other prints in that series: Print set at Hakone?; print set at Ishiyakushi?; print set at Shôno?; print set at Fuchû?; print set at Minakuchi?; print set at Sakanoshita?)

I haven't found a comprehensive listing of the prints in the series anywhere online, and have only found two others listed anywhere. So links to other prints in the series, or info about the series, would be great too.
posted by LobsterMitten to Media & Arts (15 answers total)
Best answer: In this, the little box with a single line of text (the rest of the box is overlapped by the lots-more-text) mentions the name "Sasaki Gennosuke" (佐々木源之助). This could be the character, perhaps. I'm not really sure. I'm in kind of a rush at the moment, but maybe someone else can offer some more useful help.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:52 PM on July 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you!
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:01 PM on July 30, 2011

Best answer: Right above Sasaki Gennnosuke it says "Nissaka" which this Japanese Wikipedia page says is the 25th stop on the Toukaidou.
posted by zachawry at 10:26 PM on July 30, 2011

Best answer: Yep, the artist is Kunichika. Here it is at Waseda. I'll translate the text in the box if my kid goes to sleep before someone else does...
posted by No-sword at 10:27 PM on July 30, 2011

Response by poster: You are all awesome!

It sounds like Sasaki Gennosuke is a character in the play "'Hana ayame katami ezoshi' (花菖紀念画双紙)." [I don't know kabuki so maybe that was obvious to everyone else. That title translates to English via web transgarbulator as "Flower Memorial Originator x". ]

These are the first results for the character:
Sawamura Tosshô II as Sasaki Gennosuke 1863 print by Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III)
Sawamura Tossho II as Sasaki Gennosuke in series "Mirror of Photographs of Actors", 1870 designed by Horimino; for a performance of the play in 1870.

So I wonder if that actor might be our man.

Kunichika made several prints of Sawamura Tossho, which seem to have similar features to the actor in this print.

Nissaka is a great lead.

No-sword, that's amazing! I've been searching all night. The power of knowing Japanese. Anything you can translate from there, I will be very glad to get.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:42 PM on July 30, 2011

Best answer: My kanji reading sucks, especially for scribbly handwritten stuff, but the big text in the red box to the far right does say "Tôkaidô hitome senryô" like you had probably guessed. Then the additional small boxes on the left side, I can only read the smaller of the two - 小夜中山 / "sayo (no) nakayama", which after googling, looks like a location somewhere along the Tokaido.
posted by p3t3 at 11:04 PM on July 30, 2011

Best answer: Oh, and sorry if the Japanese google results are not entirely helpful. It's in Shizuoka Prefecture - here.
posted by p3t3 at 11:10 PM on July 30, 2011

Response by poster: Working further on the name "Sasaki Gennosuke", it looks like this actor performed a character of that name in the play "長柄長者黄鳥墳 -- Nagara Chôja Uguisu Zuka" first performed in Kyôto, in the Minamigawa no Shibai theater in 1813/09 (MI)".
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:15 PM on July 30, 2011

Response by poster: to save translators' eyes:
It sounds like this is indeed part of the same series (thanks p3t3!) so maybe a bunch of the text will be names of others involved in producing the prints. If those are the same as others in the series it might include these (lifting from the Boston MFA):

Artist: Toyohara Kunichika
Other artist: Utagawa Hiroshige III
Publisher: Fujiokaya Keijirô (Shôrindô) or Ebiya Rinnosuke
Blockcutter: Katada Chôjirô (Hori Chô)

It might give the year? 1867 (Keiô 3), 3rd month
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:43 PM on July 30, 2011

Best answer: Parenting is still keeping me busy, but a quick overview of the text in that box is that it is a poetic description of the scene: "Having left its cage, the nightingale sings... suffering from illness that neither doctors nor the waters of Kusazu can cure... etc." This is all related to what happens in the story, apparently (a girl has a trained nightingale in a cage, it gets out, Gennosuke catches it for her, they fall in love, he also has an incurable illness, her family is opposed, bloodbath). The book (it wasn't originally a play) is then described as a masterpiece by (Ritsujōtei) Kiran 栗杖亭鬼卵 (1744-1823) — who was indeed the author of 長柄長者黄鳥墳 — and then the caption is credited to Sanzantei Arindo 山々亭有人 (1832-1902) (some info on him here).

Kiran's original story was apparently a big hit, inspiring many retellings, eventually on the stage. There's some info on that here, but it's in Japanese and Google Translate probably won't do a great job given the subject matter, profusion of proper nouns, and frequent quoting from Edo-period Japanese.

As for which actor it is: Waseda has a tag for Sawamura Tosshō 澤村訥升, so I think your conclusion is correct. I don't see that name on the actual print, but Waseda no doubt knows something I don't.
posted by No-sword at 3:26 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That is beautiful, No-sword. Fantastic to get part of the translated text and background on the story! If you have time later, anything else you can see here will be gratefully received.

Google translates the title of the play as "Fen nightingale millionaire Nagara"; does that sound right?

This is a print of my dad's, and he's been wondering what it is (artist, subject, etc) for a long time,. Please take my word for it that you're making a deserving man happy with all this help. Thank you all again!
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:37 PM on July 31, 2011

May I just point out that while No-sword says in the above comment that he did a "quick overview" of the text and makes it sound so nonchalant and easy, most native Japanese speakers without any background or interest in historic Japanese literature and/or text couldn't make heads or tails out of that (that includes me!). What a fantastic answer by a truly knowledgeable MeFite!
posted by misozaki at 6:19 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm going to keep posting my notes in here as I figure out more pieces.

I figured out the medium block attached to the artist's cartouche in the middle right. It's the signature of the craftsman who cut the block: Katata Horinaga (片田彫長). Figured that out by comparing with other examples with his signature at British Museum webpage; they give the Japanese characters and the Romanization in their database information.

Next, the place.
Here's a better list of the stations of the Tokaido Road, with the Japanese characters and transliterations to Roman characters.

Cross-referencing that with the other prints in the series at the Boston MFA, I think zachawry is correct that the place name is generally written above the name of the actor (in the box that's overlapped by the descriptive text about the play) in this series. So Nissaka 新阪 (or with modern characters: 日坂) is the place. The link above says Nissaka is apparently the 26th station, if you number them starting from the Tokyo end and include the origin points.

This leaves the small left-middle text as mysterious. "Sayo no nakayama" doesn't appear on the list of stations of the Tokaido Road, but maybe it is still a place-name, maybe as an address for the publisher or similar?

Big red box at middle left: The bottom three characters in this box also occur in a large red box on this Hiroshige III print from the same time period: The British Legation at Takanawa, published by Hiranoya Shinzô. Not sure if the top two characters are also part of Hiroshige III's signature that depends on context?

A reference site for finding the publisher:
publisher's seals from Japanese prints.

As of now there are four missing or partly-decoded pieces:
the smallest box in the top right
the two boxes in the middle left
the smallest box in the middle right

And some pieces of information that might be in there:
publisher name (and address?)
artist address?
Hiroshige III as additional artist (MFA website suggests he did the backgrounds)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:43 PM on August 6, 2011

"Sayo no nakayama" doesn't appear on the list of stations of the Tokaido Road, but maybe it is still a place-name

In the Nissaka link above, it says "Nissaka-shuku was located at the western entrance to Sayo no Nakayama (小夜の中山?), regarded as one of the three difficult mountain passes along the Tōkaidō."

So it looks like this was a famous difficult stretch of the Tokaido road that went through some mountains. Nissaka was the station just west of it. The kanji basically mean "evening" (sayo) and "within the mountains" (nakayama).
posted by p3t3 at 3:30 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the smallest box in the top right looks like probably the name of a mountain. I'd guess it's the mountain in the background of the picture.
posted by p3t3 at 5:14 PM on August 11, 2011

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