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VJP title Utamaro print showing



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Ichiyôsai Yoshitaki (1841-99)


Yoshitaki kanji Yoshitaki was a prolific artist who began designing woodblock prints while still a teenager. By the early 1860s, when barely into his twenties, he had already become a much sought-after print designer. Unfortunately, Yoshitaki and other late-period artists are often associated with the decline of the Osaka actor print. This assessment is still widely held today, and indeed, much of Yoshitaki's work appears rather conventional and mannered.

Critics have suggested that this depreciation in quality was caused, to some degree, by the pressure to produce large quantities of designs to satisfy the demands of publishers who were eager to cash in on the popularity of the kabuki theater. This was at a time when, arguably, there were relatively few highly skilled portraitists. (The same had been said, however, about the so-called "decadence" of early nineteenth century Edo ukiyo-e). There exists an informative article written by Yoshitaki's son, Kawasaki Kyosen, describing in some detail the practices of late-period Osaka print production that sheds some light on the working habits and attitudes of print designers and publishers. In any case, Yoshitaki managed to produce some attractive and effective designs, many issued in deluxe format.

Yoshitaki Yotsuya

An example of a conventional though successful print is shown above. Yoshitaki's chûban-size triptych (circa 1860-1864) is well printed with some metallic highlights. It depicts a scene from Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan ("Tôkaidô Ghost Story at Yotsuya"), first performed at the Nakamura-za, Edo, in 7/1825. This dramatization was the most famous play written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV (1755-1829), considered the master of the ghost story genre, or kaidanmono. His successes also included plays about outlaw heroes.

Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan and the pitiful character of Oiwa (not shown in this scene) were very popular subjects in nineteenth century ukiyo-e. Yotsuya Oiwa was married to a dissolute rônin (masterless samurai) named Tamiya Iemon who kills her father. Later Iemon decides to marry a neighbor's daughter, Itô Oume, after he tires of Oiwa. The Itô family provide a "potion" (actually a poison) to ostensibly aid Oiwa in her post-partum convalescence. She is terribly disfigured by the brew, learns of her husband's treachery, and finally dies by accident brought about by an unbearable desire for revenge. In the final act Iemon is haunted by the ghosts of Oiwa and others he has murdered, and finally he is killed himself by Oiwa's brother-in-law Yomoshichi (or driven to suicide by the ghosts in another version of the story).

Yoshitaki's portrayal is dark and foreboding for this scene from Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan at the Chikugo Theater, Osaka, in 8/1860. Nakamura Kanjaku as the villain Tamiya Iemon stands in the center as he is confronted by (R) Arashi Rikaku as Sato Yomoshichi and (L) Nakamura Jakuemon as Naosuke Gonbei. The postures of the actors are not particularly expressive, but, overall, the design does evoke at least in modest measure the imminent threat of retribution against Iemon. For another design by Yoshitaki, see Fading of a Yoshitaki Print. ©1999-2001 by John Fiorillo


  • Halford, A. & G.: The Kabuki Handbook. Rutland VT: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 373-374.
  • Keyes, R. and Mizushima, K.: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp. 318-320.
  • Leiter, S.: Kabuki Encyclopedia: An English Language Adaptation of Kabuki jiten. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979, pp. 401-402.
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