////Harukawa Eichō (Shunsai Eishō). Sumo wrestler Kuroyanagi Matsujiro. Circa 1820-40.

Harukawa Eichō (Shunsai Eishō). Sumo wrestler Kuroyanagi Matsujiro. Circa 1820-40.

This print was sold to me with the following description:  “Ikkansai EISHO (Fl. early 19th c.). A portrait of the wrestler Kuroyanagi Matsujiro, ring name Kumagatake Inosuke. Eisho was a pupil of Eishi. Published c. 1820s by Uoya Eikichi. Signed Shunsai Eisho ga.”

As a result of our joint effort with my beloved sister, we have so far found the following:

The artis is mentioned in The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, 2005, Vol 2; p. 438 under the name of Harukawa Eichō. From this source we learned that the artist was active from about 1818 till 1844, and was a print designer in Kyoto. He was a student first of Harukawa Goshichi and later studied in Edo (Tokyo) with Keisai Eisen, when he assumed the art name ‘Eichō’. Other names: Shunsai.

The Japanese web page dedicated to Harukawa Eichō provides more details: The artist lived from the 4th year of Tenmei ( 1784 ) to the first year of Kaei ( 1848 ). He was a student of Harukawa Goshichi, Kikukawa Eizan as well as of Keisai Eisen. His popular name was Kamenosuke. He was from Kyoto. He took “gagō” (artistic names) of Eishō when he was a student of Harukawa Goshichi; later, when he became a student of Kikukawa Eizan and Keisai Eisen he took the name of Kikukawa Eichō. The artist was mostly known for his bijinga (beautiful women) prints as well as kanazōshi illustrations. Nothing is said anywhere about his sumo prints, though the reference to another Kyushu sumo wrestler portrait has been found.

The sumo wrestler Kuroyanagi Matsujiro is also a somewhat obscure figure: information about his life and career is quite inconsistent. It may so happened that two different persons were combined together.

Wikipedia page about Aoi Aso Jinja, a Shinto shrine in Hitoyoshi in Kumamoto prefecture, tells us the following:

Kuroki Matsujiro (黒木松次郎) was born in the village of Itsuki in Kuma district, Kumamoto prefecture, island of Kyushu in Bunka era, 4th year (1807). Since from his childhood he was blessed by great physique and tough strength. He had affection for sumo. At the age of 18 he became a sumo student of Kumamoto Shimakawa Ikuhei and took the name of Toyama Hidekichi (遠山日出吉). At the age of 23 (1830), he entered sumo stables in Kyoto, mastered the art of taming of young horses, and his talents improved.

At the age of 31 he went to Edo, and became a disciple of the ōzeki Oitekaze Kitaro of Hirado domain in Hizen province, also from Kyushu island. After that, he changed his name and became Kuroyanagi Matsujiro (黒柳松次郎 – as on the print).

In 1847 (Bunka era, 4th year) he distinguished himself by advancing to the first grade, and at the age of 32 he was promoted to ozeki level, becoming sekitori. After changing his name to Kuma-ga-take Inosuke (熊ヶ嶽猪之介 / くまがたけいのすけ) he displayed further efforts, and became one of the strongmen that fermented sumo wrestling in Edo. 

In 1853 (Kaei era, 6th year) he retired and returned to his village, becoming an employee as a strongman of Sagara domain (相良藩), and worked hard as instructor of the sumo training hall to train successors until 1855 (Ansei era, 2nd year) when he passed away at the age of 48.

Even today Kuma-ga-take’s home exists in Itsukimura (his native village). Also, on those grounds a descendant of Kuma-ga-take runs minshuku (guest house) that bears the name of “The Kuroki Pension (lodging) “and tourists come to visit from various parts of Japan.

In 2015, tenth month, within the borders of Aoi Aso Shrine there was built a gravestone publicly honoring Kuma-ga-take Inosuke, sumo wrestler from Edo / of Edo period.

This information has some inconsistencies already. If our hero was born in 1807 and promoted to ōzeki at the age of 32, it should have been the year 1839, not 1847.

I found Kumagatake Isuke at “Sumo Reference” website:

Highest Rank Maegashira 4
Real Name Kuroki
Birth Date 1815
Shusshin Kumamoto-ken, Kuma-gun
Death Date March 6, 1855 (40 years)
Heya Oitekaze
Shikona Kuroyanagi Matsujiro – Kumagatake Isuke
Hatsu Dohyo 1836.02 (Sandanme)
Intai 1853.02

The real name is the same, the ring name Kuroyanagi Matsujiro is the same, however, the date of birth here is 1815.  He fought from 1836 till 1853 – which is quite similar to “At the age of 31 he went to Edo, and became a disciple of the ōzeki Oitekaze Kitaro”. Though, in 1836 he might be 29 years old. His bouts are listed from spring 1841 to spring 1848 under the name of Kuroyanagi and from winter 1848 till spring 1853 he listed under the name of Kumagatake Isuke [Inosuke].

On another important sumo history website, I found that Kuroyanagi first appeared at ring in the spring of 1823 (he might have been 16 years old then, which does not seem right). Then, in the winter tournament of 1848 Kuroyanagi took the name Kumagatake. At the spring tournament of 1853 Kumagatake (Kuroyanagi) retired. This is quite consistent so far.

Then, I found Oitekaze Kitaro, allegedly the teacher of Kuroyanagi.

Highest Rank Ozeki
Real Name SATO Matsujiro (Matsutaro#)
Birth Date 1799
Shusshin Kanagawa-ken, Tsukui-gun
Death Date May 4, 1865 (66 years)
Heya Oitekaze
Shikona Kuroyanagi Matsujiro – Kuroyanagi Sumiemon – Oitekaze Kitaro
Hatsu Dohyo 1817.10 (Jonokuchi)
Intai 1839.03

Everything look good with an exception of ring names (shikona): Kuroyanagi Matsujiro (1823-1828) – Kuroyanagi Sumiemon (1829-30) – Oitekaze Kitaro (1831-1839). May it be that Sato Matsutaro fought under the name of Kuroyanagi Matsujiro until Kuroki Matsujiro took this name from his master? I don’t have another explanation of the enigma.

What we know is that we have a portrait of a sumo wrestler called Kuroyanagi Matsujiro from Kyushu, but we don’t know whether this was the one from Kumamoto (Kumagatake Inosuke, 1807/1815-1855) or the other from Kanagawa (Oitekaze Kitaro, 1799-1865).

Subsequently, we may declare that the artist is Shunsai Eishō, a.k.a.Harukawa Eichō from Eishi school (The Hotei Encyclodepdia, p. 524), we can date the print from 1818 to 1844, and only tell that the wrestler is Kuroyanagi Matsujiro from Kyushu (either Kumagatake Inosuke or Oitekaze Kitaro). The publisher of the print is Moriya Jihei (Marks №353, p. 243-5).

That’s it.

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