JAPANESE PRINTS

A MILLION QUESTIONS

TWO MILLION MYSTERIES

 

Ukiyo-e Prints

浮世絵版画

Port Townsend, Washington

 

 

Utagawa Toyokuni III

 

三代歌川豊国

さんだい.うたがわ.とよくに

1786-1865

Title: Mii Banshō

三井の晩鐘

みいばんしょう

Series Title: Omi hakkei no uchi

近江八景之図

Actor: Ichikawa Danzō VI

市川団蔵

いちかわだんぞう

Role: Kuronushi

黒主

くろぬし

Publisher: Hayashi-ya Shojirō?

Carver: Yokegawa Takejirō

横川竹治郎

よこがわたけじろう

Carver's Seal: hori Take (彫竹 or ほりたけ)

Date: 1852, 6th Month

Signature: Toyokuni ga

 

Size: 14 1/4" x 9 5/8"

 

 Several areas are burnished like the black of his sleeve and Sekibei's hair. The darker areas of the landscape are flecked with mica. More subtle than any of these and impossible to reproduce in any photo or scan is the clear, but burnished interlinked toshidamas* in the title cartouche. (You would have to handle this print to see them for yourself.)

 

*The toshidama or otoshidama is the crest used by Kunisada/Toyokuni III and many other Utagawa artists. Kunisada used many variations of this as can be seen in the signature cartouche.

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Otomo no Kuronushi

大伴黒主

 

The historical Otomo no Kuronushi was a ninth century poet whose family's stronghold was Otsu in Omi province which twice served briefly as the Imperial residence in the 7th century. With the advent of Buddhism and the emplacement of the Emperor in a more permanent setting in Nara and later Kyōto the power of the Otomo clan diminished. With the rest of the now-provincial clans, the Otomo, whose prestige and might preceded the Confucian and Buddhist restructuring of government, were seen as a potential source of unrest and sedition. More than that, as the brilliant urban Heian culture flowered at Kyōto, the provincial nobility came to be seen as illiterate bumpkins incapable of refinement but fit enough to supply the rice tax levy which enriched their betters at the Court.*

*The information shown above was provided to us by A.K.  Much of it is quoted without the marks because I have edited and rearranged some of the wording. My apologies to K. and hope he will appreciate my efforts. I certainly do his with enormous gratitude.

Laura Resplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius in their Princeton Library of Asian Translations (1984, p. 416) note possible dates for Kuronushi as "830?-923?". They also point out  that he was "One of the 'six poetic geniuses.' Member of a provincial family descended from the imperial line."

 

Kuronushi the Poet

ひいでて

こひしきときは

はつかりの

なきてわたると

ひとしるらめや

Omoiidete

koishiki toki wa

hatsukari no

nakite wataru to

hito shirurame ya

Lost in memories of our

times of love: the first wild goose

departs, lamenting and I

wander lamenting too:

Do you even remember?

This is from the Kokinshu #735 and is translated by A.K., our contributor.

 

近江のや

鏡の山を

たてれば

かねてぞ見ゆる

君が千年は

Omi no ya

kagami no yama o

tatetareba

kanete zo miyuru

kimi ga chitose wa

High it rises in Omi,

Mirror Mountain,

stands high established

reflecting the thousand years

our lord will reign

Kokinshu #1086 transalted by A.K.

 

         
   

Carver's Seal:

hori Take

representing

Yokegawa Takejiro

 

Date Seals:

1852, 6th Month

 

Publisher's Seal:

Hayashi-ya Shojiro?

 

Trimmed on the right.

         

 

A BUM WRAP?
 
"Both Kuronushi and the formidable woman poet Ono no Komachi were preparing their entries for a poetry competition to be held in the Emperor's presence. Kuronushi, anxious that Komachi's poem might be better than his, lurked near her house and overheard her practicing her recitation. Struck by the excellence of her verse and unwilling to lose to her, he formed a devious plan. Memorizing her poem, he wrote it into a copy of the ancient anthology Man'yōshū. After her recitation at the contest, Kuronushi accused her of plagiarism and produced the Man'yōshū to prove it. Komachi, quick-witted though astonished and stung by Kuronushi's treachery, asked for a basin of water to be brought. She dipped the manuscript into it, and as she did so, the fresh writing of Kuronushi's forgery washed away, while the ancient writing remained. Kuronushi's deceit exposed, she won the prize."*
 

* We are grateful to A.K. for contributing this tale. He went on to say that whether this is simply based on malicious court gossip or not it is enshrined in the Noh play Soshiarai Komachi (草紙洗小町) and has blackened Kuronushi's reputation ever since. Logic tells us that someone out there or perhaps a whole faction was intent on dissing the man. Anyone and everyone competently literate at the time when this story would have taken place would have known that that was not an old poem.**

**Donald Keene in his Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century (p. 245) notes that the compilers of the Kokinshū wrote "...one of the earliest and best known documents of Japanese poetic criticism." They stated that none of the Six Immortal Poets of the ninth century could rival the poets of the Man'yōshū. Ono no Komachi's poetry was said to be weak "...like an ailing woman wearing cosmetics." But if that weren't bad enough Kuronishi took his own pounding: "His style is extremely crude, as though a peasant were resting in front of a flowering tree." And that wasn't even their harshest appraisal.

 

 

SEEING STARS
   
In the kabuki play Seki no To (関の扉 or せきのと) the villain Otomo no Kuronushi (大伴黒主 or おおともくろぬし) is portrayed as the character Sekibei. He is plotting to take over the country. In this scene he is disguised as the guard of a barrier gate.  While drinking from a red lacquer bowl  "...a stylized black and silver cloud appears, and within it the stars of the Big Dipper. He sees them reflected in the [bowl], notes the position of Saturn, and realizes that this is the precise moment to cut down the...[large black trunked, blossoming] cherry tree [nearby]."  Burning the wood of the tree will help him in his efforts to usurp power. However, the tree is possessed and before he can cut it down a female spirit appears. They struggle --- one of the most dramatic scenes in kabuki --- and in the end Sekibei is thwarted.
 
A visitor to this site and frequent correspondent of mine has pointed me in the right direction many times. After I posted this image on the Internet he asked in an e-mail what the yellow "sparklies" were in the bowl. At that point I didn't know and told him so. He did the basic research and provided me --- and you --- with the answer. For purposes of modesty or discretion he prefers being referred to as "AK." Thank you AK. Now we all know.

 

THE NATURE OF SEKIBEI'S COSTUME

While Leitner makes a point of describing Sekibei's costume it does not jive with those of the print featured on this page or that of the detail of the image shown immediately above which is also by Toyokuni III but portraying Ichikawa Ebiz˘ V here. Perhaps it is poetic license or perhaps I have not seen the exact costume to which Leitner is referring. He states that Ono no Komachi "...requests passage through the barrier, but is refused by the barrier guard Sekibei, dressed in a bold, green and white, checkerboard-patterned (ichimatsu moyō) padded kimono, with a brown turban-like cap on his head."* Clearly Leitner must be noting the oddly designed costumes seen on this page which seem to be unique to this particular character.

 

* The New Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of the Kabuki Jiten, by Samuel Leiter, Greenwood Press, 1997, p. 565.

 

 

 

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For additional information about

and images  by various artists of

Ichikawa Danzō VI

link to the web site below.

 

DANZŌ VI

 

 

 

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