////Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Yoshida Sadaemon Kanesada (Chūshingura, Act XI), from the series ‘Pictures Associated with the Iroha Syllabary’ / Fan print, 1842-46.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Yoshida Sadaemon Kanesada (Chūshingura, Act XI), from the series ‘Pictures Associated with the Iroha Syllabary’ / Fan print, 1842-46.

Series: Pictures Associated with the Iroha Syllabary [伊呂波画合].

Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi [歌川 國芳] (1798 – 1861).

Signed: Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi giga [一勇斎 國芳戯画] (Playfully drawn by Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi) in a red double-gourd cartouche with a kiri-mon seal beneath.

Publisher: Iseya Ichiemon [伊勢屋市右衛門] (Japanese, fl. 1823 – c. 1864); seal [辻]  (Marks 16-029 | 143a).

Single nanushi censor seal: Mura [村] = Murata Sahei [村田佐右衛] (VI/1842 – V/1846).

Media: Fan print (uchiwa-e, 団扇絵), 231 x 296 mm.

Theme: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers [仮名手本忠臣蔵] (Kanadehon Chūshingura) – an 11-act puppet play composed in 1748, based on a historical event. “Most historians now agree that there were forty-seven rōnin of Ako who attacked and killed Kira Yoshinaka (吉良 義央, 1641 – 1703) in Edo in the twelfth month of 1702, twenty-two months after their lord Asano Naganori (浅野 長矩, 1667 – 1701) had been put to death for his own failed attempt on Kira’s life”. [Henry D. SMITH II. The Trouble with Terasaka: The Forty-Seventh Rōnin and the Chūshingura Imagination / Japan Review, 2004, 16:3-65]. The reader shall remember that the fictional, romantic version of the Akō incident [赤穂事件] (Akō jiken) may not (and most probably does not) reflect the historical truth of events.

Uncut fan print depicting a beautiful young woman covering another woman’s mouth with a blue striped cloth, possibly an obi. The picture on the wall represents the scene from the final act of The Treasury of Loyal Retainers (Kanadehon Chūshingura, Act 11) when 47 loyal retainers (rōnin) of the late lord En’ya Hangan came to the house of Kō no Moronao in order to avenge their dead master. The leader of 47 rōnin, Ōboshi Yuranosuke, divided his accomplices into several groups which attacked the Moronao mansion from different directions. To coordinate the attack and keep communication among the groups, the rōnin were signing the first syllables of their names in the hiragana syllabary. There are two major types of the ordering of the hiragana syllabary, the Gojūon one and the Iroha order (pangram poem), the latter being used here. The number of avengers exactly matches the 47 letters of that syllabary. The group entering Moronao’s house from the front gate was ‘chi-ri-nu-ru-wo-wa-ka’Yoshida Sadaemon Kanesada [葦田貞右衛門兼貞] (1675 – 1703) depicted on this fan print belongs to this group. The character on the lantern hanging from Yoshida’s spear reads Chū [忠] – for Chūshingura. 

Alternating black and white triangles on the picture frame allude to the ‘signature’ 47 ronin’s uniform. This motif is usually described as a zigzag pattern [雁木模様] (gangi moyō), a mountain-shaped pattern [山形模様] (yamagata moyō), or a mountain road [山道] (yamamichi). The rōnin were allegedly wearing this uniform in imitation of firefighters. The government allowed the firefighters alone to gather in large groups and carry equipment akin to that of the military. Such equipment was necessary for firemen to tear down the burning buildings to stop the flames.

The design can be seen in Kunimaru’s fan print [SVJP-0233.2018] in this collection.

Utagawa Kunimaru .

Utagawa Kunimaru. Chūshingura, Act 11.

Fighting Moronao’s guards, the 47 rōnin entered the mansion and searched for their enemy but in vain. Finally, Yazama Jujiro Motooki [矢間重次郎元興]  found the villain in the charcoal chamber and called his friends. This is the exact moment we see in the picture on the wall: Yoshida entering the charcoal chamber with a spear in his hand amid falling baskets and charcoal. Kō no Moronao was brought to justice and beheaded; his head was offered before the memorial tablet of En’ya Hangan to appease his spirit. After that, Ōboshi Yuranosuke and his 46 friends committed seppuku. They were buried at Sengakuji (泉岳寺) – a small temple near Shinagawa in Edo (Tokyo).

Another fan print from the same series can be found at Kuniyoshi Project:

The same subject is portrayed by Kuniyoshi  in the series Mirror of the True Loyalty of the Faithful Retainers [誠忠義臣鏡] (Seichû gishin kagami), publisher: Kagiya Hanjirô, c. 1851 (Kuniyoshi Project) – Yoshida Sadaemon Kanesada (葦田貞右衛門兼貞) raising his sword amid falling baskets and charcoal:


SKU: SVJP-0369.2022 Categories: ,

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