The Osaka-born artist Kyôgadô [Gôgadô] Ashikuni (狂画堂芦國), act. 1801–20) might have been a bookseller — a person named Kyôgadô Shôhikaku was identified as such on the title page of Saten suminoe zôshi, a nine-volume woodblock-printed book that he and other artists illustrated in 1810. As Kyôgadô was also Ashikuni's pseudonym, the same names might be more than mere coincidence. Overall, Ashikuni designed primarily in book format (40 or more, sometimes signing as Asayama Ashikuni, 浅山芦國) while producing only a handful of single-sheet print designs, nearly all later in his career, or so it seems based on the few surviving prints. These works were in hosoban (including at least one stencil print) and ôban formats; some surimono also appeared. In addition, Ashikuni is known by 34 drawings in color on silk (Philadelphia Museum of Art).
Ashikuni was a significant figure in Kamigata printmaking, especially through the influence he exerted as a teacher. His pupils included Ashifune (芦舟), Ashiharu (芦陽), Ashihiro (芦廣), Ashikiyo (芦清), Ashimaro (芦麿), Ashimaru (芦丸 later Yoshikuni]; Ashinuki (芦貫), Ashisatô (芦郷), Ashitaka (芦尚), Ashitomo (芦友), Ashiyuki (芦幸), Toshikuni (歳國 later Hokugan 北鴈), and Hamamatsu Utakuni (濱松歌國).
A rare design from what appears to be Ashikuni's first year of single-sheet print designing portrays Bandô Jûtarô I as Danshichi Mohei (団七茂兵衛) in the play Yadonashi Danshichi shigure no karakasa (Homeless Danshichi: An umbrella in the rain: 宿無団七時雨傘) at the Kita Shinshi Theater, Osaka in 6/1801 (see image at right). The play is one of several successful Danshichi mono (plays about Danshichi). In this version, the Utagawa family in Minatogawa fell from fortune when a precious dagger and family heirloom was stolen. Their son moved to the port town of Sakai, adopted the name Danshichi Mohei, and supported himself as a fish seller, but also became notorious for his quick temper.
Mohei loved a prostitute named Tomi (or Otomi) at the Iwai bathhouse and succeeded in keeping her from Kazuemon, a rival suitor. Unknown to Mohei, Kazuemon possessed the stolen sword and certificate of authenticity. The bathhouse owner was Mohei's friend and convinced Tomi that the sword and the family's fortunes might be restored if she pretended to reject Mohei and temporarily give in to Kazuemon. Tomi reluctantly agreeed, but when she broke her engagement to Mohei, he fell into a jealous rage, ran amok and killed the bathhouse owner and several other people. Mohei was about to strike Tomi when a crowd attempts to control Mohei. Enraged, he spares Tomi but kills the proprietor and several innocent people. After his rage subsides, Mohei's guilt overwhelms him and he commits suicide.
Two decades later, in 1821, Ashikuni portrayed Arashi Kitsusaburô I [formerly Kichisaburô II; 嵐吉三郞 [嵐橘三郞] and also called Rikan I) as Kowari Dennai (小わり伝内) in the play Katakiuchi ura no asagiri (Revenge along the bay in morning fog: 敵討浦朝霧), Naka Theater, Osaka (see image below). The story involved an attempted usurpation of the leadership of the Aboshi clan by a villain named Karahashi and his son. The hero, Kowari Dennai (小割伝内), a hunter and a relative of the true heir, was sent to terminate the plot, which was based on actual incident in 1804 between the lord of Akashi and a hunter named Gennai who became involved in a murder.
The poems [translated by Drew Gerstle; see reference below) read as follows: Ashi ato wa / mada tsukesomenu / yowa no yuki (No tracks made yet / a blanket of snow / in the dead of night) by Rikan I (璃寛); Fuyu-gomori / hana tachibana ni / sakura min (Hidden in the winter basket / among the mandarin flowers / cherry blossom is spied) by Ashifune (あし舟); Hota taku ya / kore atara-bide / aru beki ka (Should we burn this wood / it will surely / make a great fire), by Doran (士卵).
This edition appeared six years after the original 1815 double-ôban surimono production with the poems all printed on the left side. Gerstle proposes two possible dates for the later reprinting: either when Rikan I took the new stage name of Kitsusaburô I in 1/1821, or to commemorate the untimely death of Kitsusaburô I in 9/1821. The print shown here has an added inscription reading Ôatari kyôgen Kowari Dennai — Arashi Kitsusaburô (Arashi Kitsusaburô in the hit play Kowari Dennai: 大当狂言小わり伝内嵐橘三郞).
Art name (geimei):
Art pseudonyms (gô):
Pupils of Ashikuni (listed alphabetically)
Ashifune (芦舟 act. c. 1812–16)
© 1999-2021 by John Fiorillo