Actor on the
Ichikawa Danzō V
as Hagizuka Narutonosuke
Actor on the
Bando Jutarō I
as Hamana Oribe
Play: Momochidori Naruto no Shiranami
Size: 14 7/8"
Kichi (the upper right) and Honsei (Honya Seishichi)
featured above is the
panel of a triptych.
The full set is shown
below, but is
NOT for sale.
We are displaying it
here simply for your information.
I JUST REALIZED!
The first word of
the title to this play in Japanese transliterates as Momochidori
(百千鳥). One translation of this term could mean "100 chidori". The word "chidori"
is often translated as plover or snipe. This bird is frequently paired with
images of dramatic waves and that is what is used to decorate the outer
robes of the standing figure. According to Merrily Baird on page 103 of her
Symbols of Japan "...the chidori is an auspicious symbol for
the warrior class. The first ideograph used to write the word means 'one
thousand,' and the second is a homophone for the words 'seize' and
'capture.' Because the bird overcomes high waves and winds to migrate, it is
seen as an emblem of perseverance and the conquering of obstacles."
WHAT DOES THIS CREST
IT HELPS US
TO IDENTIFY THE ACTOR!
Every culture I
know of uses symbols not only as talismans or markers for class
distinctions, but also just for easy identification. Sports teams wear
different colors and one can easily find oneself in the stands among a sea
of orange coated boosters fanatically screaming for victory for their side.
Crusaders followed the sign of the cross, Muslims the crescent moon.
Medieval knights had their colors and heraldic escutcheons. Napoleon
resurrected the ancient image of the bee. And modern pan-national societies
have used everything from the hammer and sickle to such symbols of
capitalist consumption as the Louis Vuitton logo. The problem with the
Vuitton and other logos is that they are so often counterfeited. We are
surrounded by symbols. In fact, we are awash in them.
Japanese culture is
no different. It has followed similar patterns from the ancient use of
talismanic devices to clan crests to actors mons to modern logos.* That is
why the crest featured above is significant. It was a marker which quickly
identified to those in the know the name of that particular actor,
Ichikawa Danzô V. But there should be a cautionary note for the modern
viewer ignorant of how to read each little element: The clothing of the
performer might display a lot more than just the actor's crest. There might
even be other crests in near proximity. In fact, the clothing offers many
different clues as to who is being portrayed or some great literary
allusion, etc., and most of which still alludes the majority of us.
[See the section called "I Just Realized!" further up this page.]
*When I was little
I noticed the visceral reaction and repulsion toward the German swastika
long before I knew anything about the Nazis. Then once I did learn the
history of that period I began to share the abhorrence of my contemporaries.
But such a reaction can also be blinding and a cause of great ignorance and
naiveté. The Germans had borrowed the swastika from their other distant
relatives among the Indo-Europeans. That symbol was in use thousands of
years before Hitler chose it for his own. To counter that argument modern
individuals like to say things like "The arms of the Nazi swastika go one
way and the ancient ones the other." This is not true, but it is almost
impossible to shake people from their beliefs. Ask anyone in the West who is
not already versed in ukiyo-e art what kind of paper the Japanese printed on
and they almost to a person say "Rice paper." Again they are wrong, but just
try to tell them that.
swastika which was called the manji in Japan originally did not carry
the baggage which weighs down the post 1945 Nazi totem. In fact, it had a
much more positive aspect because of its identification with Buddhism.
Nevertheless, in the 19th century in Japan there were Shinto purists who
railed against such foreign based imagery and this set off a wave of native
iconoclasts hell-bent on destroying the manji and so much more. We
saw the same thing happen during the Reformation in Europe when the Dutch
stormed the Catholic churches and destroyed the statuaries and paintings. We
saw this again in Afghanistan at Bamiyan in early 2001 when the Taliban
decided to blow up enormous sculptures of Buddha. The choice of the World
Trade Center buildings represented something grotesquely symbolic to their enemies. The
world was helpless to prevent it. Such is the way of the world. It will
happen again...and again...and again. Such is the power of the symbol.
FIVE SURE-FIRE WAYS
TO FIND OUT
WHO THE ACTOR IS
IN ONE OF YOUR PRINTS!
DISCLAIMER: WELL SORT
THE CREST OR MON
There are Japanese
volumes of illustrations that show mon after mon after mon. These represent
the crests specific to each family or to individuals or groups of actors.
Unfortunately, there is not that much compiled in English that I am aware of
and one has to search through several sources in the hope that they will
find just exactly what they are looking for..
John Dower's book
shown above is an excellent guide to the breadth and inventiveness of
Japanese design motifs used for mons. "...with over 2,700 crests drawn by
Kiyoshi Kawamoto" there is no finer compendium of its type which I know of
in English. While it is not particularly helpful in the identification of
which mon goes with which actor it is remarkable in its scope and basic
details. Well organized, it illustrates everything from stylized radishes to
feathers and everything else in between. It would be a good addition to
anyone's library who is interested in researching these crests. Because it
is so basic it will not tell you everything you want to know. However, all
in all, I would recommend it highly.
According to Donald
Jenkins Katsukawa Shunshō (1726-92) was the first Japanese print artist with
a "...skill in capturing likenesses." This Jenkins says is "...undoubtedly
most important [aspect]...for a designer of actor prints. None of his
contemporaries could touch him in this regard...and it is hard to think of
any later print artist who could equal him. Shunshō's abilities as a
portraitist must have seemed all the more remarkable in that no such
portrayals had ever been attempted in the actor print genre before." (1)
Roger Keyes in his
catalogue of the Ainsworth Collection said that "Utamaro may have been the
first artist to apply ideas of physiognomy..." (2) I am not sure that this
contradicts what Jenkins said about Shunshō since Webster's Dictionary
defines physiognomy as "the facial features held to show qualities of mind
or character by their configuration or expression." One artist captured the
look and the other captured the causes which give us that look.
Prior to Shunshō
the only way a person could tell which actor was being portrayed was 1) the
prominent display of the actor's crest or 2) kanji text which spelled it out
for them or 3) having seen in person the performance for which this print
was created as a memento.
When I was a
youngster and went to major league baseball games one of the first things I
learned was "You can't know the players without a program." In general, the
same principal works for the identification of actors in Japanese
The caricature used
in profile above is by Kuniyoshi.
1. The Actor's
Image: Print Makers of the Katsukawa School, by Timothy Clark and Osamu
Ueda with an essay by Donald Jenkins, Princeton University Press, 1994, p.
Woodblock Prints: A Catalogue of the Mary A. Ainsworth Collection,
distributed by Indiana University Press, Roger Keyes, 1984, p. 36.
TEXT IN KANJI
OR ON-LINE COLLECTION
Just because a
print you own is illustrated in a book or on-line does not make yours
authentic. On the other hand it doesn't make the example you are looking at
authentic either. The odds are greater that a print is the real McCoy if it
appears in a book by a credible author or in a catalogue from a reputable
museum exhibition. The problems: There are lots of copies and forgeries out
there. (For some interesting information about art forgeries and fakes take
a look at the June 2005 issue of "Art News". These articles are not about
Japanese prints, but they do provide a lot of information about the problem
of fraud in general.)
I have a reasonably
large resource library on Japanese prints and culture and use it all of the
time. It has been invaluable when I am doing research: Titles, artists,
editions, publishers, iconography, dates, etc. Handling large numbers of
authentic prints is the best learning process. In time it becomes rather
easy to make the determination between a fake and an original. Unfortunately
everything else in between falls into those ubiquitous shades of gray.
ASK AN EXPERT
This is an obvious
route which can be taken. But here too there should be a cautionary note or
two or three. Many of the so-called experts speak from the mountain top. I
suppose they have to because they don't want to be seen equivocating. Makes
them look weak or wrong or both. However, they aren't always right. They
might think they are and you might think they are, but that doesn't make it
so. Remember Newton was right until Einstein came along. Of course, Newton
was no slacker, but...
It doesn't hurt to
get a second opinion. Somewhat like visiting a doctor you aren't too sure
of. But be prepared to pay for their services. They don't all charge and
don't all charge for the same types of advice/opinions. The second opinion
could be your own research. Check their facts if you can even if you feel
the field is too daunting. Relax, breath deeply and try to find
corroboration. Experts often don't agree and everybody is wrong sometimes.
There are a lot of
very cheap people out there --- you know who you are --- or, at least, you
should know --- who are forever looking for free advice. Why pay when you
can get it for free? Right! Well, you get what you pay for. And yet even
when you do pay sometimes you get led astray. It's a crapshoot.
WHY ARE THERE
ON THIS PRINT?
To be perfectly
candid we don't know why. This issue came up again recently --- today is May
8, 2005 --- when one of our correspondent/contributors, E, wrote to us to
point out that Roger Keyes and Keiko Mizushima in their The Theatrical
World of Osaka Prints mentioned in the back of the catalogue in a
section entitled "Concordance of Names" that the Honsei (夲清 or ほんせい) seal
appeared with that of numerous other smaller publishing houses and
specifically with that of Kichi (吉 or きち) from 1823-33. (1) Our print
featured on this page with both of these seals was issued toward the
beginning of this period, i.e., 1825. Kichi, on the other hand, is only
shown as working with two different publishers and both of these may have
been Honsei using alternate names.
Dean J. Schwaab
helps to clear up the two publishers issue, but only somewhat. In the end he
doesn't really tells us how or why this happened. He tells us that the
production of actor prints in the Osaka/Kyōto area had a long tradition and
that in time the local publishers came to specialize almost exclusively in
kabuki themes. Unlike Edo where publishers sprouted up everywhere something
prevented similar entrepreneurial growth in Osaka. The publisher Shiochō
seems to have a strangle hold on the production of Edo-style oban prints
from their inception in ca. 1812. But then in 1816 "...four publishers
succeeded in breaking that monopoly..." (2) They were Tenki, Wataki, Honsei
and Toshin. "They in turn, either by governmental restriction on licenses or
through collusion, managed to keep out further competition until the late
"This is not to say
that the seals of a group of minor publishers do not occasionally appear
during this period - Ariharadō, Iden....and Kichi to name a few during the
1820s. But these names generally appear alongside the seal of a major
But why? The
question is still unanswered. Considering the nature of the extended family
in Japanese culture perhaps these minor publishers were related
somehow to the larger houses. Perhaps some of the work was farmed out to
them, but required the seal of the benefactor house for legitimacy. Still we
don't know and wish someone out there could tell us. It would help in our
overall understanding of the production of Osaka prints. If any of you know
why or have a theory please contact us. We aren't averse to emending this
1. The Theatrical
World of Osaka Prints, by Roger Keyes and Keiko Mizushima, published by
the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp. 301 & 305.
2. Osaka Prints,
by Dean J. Schwaab, published by Rizzoli, 1989, p. 11.