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VJP title
Utamaro print showing


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Rakkaken Yoshiyuki (六花軒芳雪)


Yoshiyuki Vertical Diptych Rakkaken Yoshiyuki (六花軒芳雪) was a student of Yoshiume (1819-1879). He should not be confused with the Edo artist Ichireisai Yoshiyuki (active 1850s - 1860s), who signed with a different character for yuki and was a pupil of the famous Edo master Kuniyoshi. There was also an earlier Osaka artist named Takagi Yoshiyuki who worked in the early 1820s and used the same characters in his name as Ichireisai Yoshiyuki. It appears that Rakkaken Yoshiyuki worked in Osaka until around 1868, when he then moved to Tokyo (formerly Edo).

After the chûban format took hold in Osaka after the end of the Tenpô Reforms in 1847, artists explored the possibilities of expression within the smaller format. Multi-sheet compositions were, of course, one way to expand beyond the restrictions of so small a pictorial space. Horizontal polyptychs were by far the most common of these compositions, with occasional variations involving the placement of a single sheet above the main row of prints in horizontal triptychs, tetraptychs, or pentaptychs. Another option was the vertical chûban polyptych.

One example is shown here, a diptych that is, in effect, a half-size kakemono. It depicts the actors Onoe Tamizô II (1799 - 3/1886) as Ishikawa Goemon and Mimasu Daigorô V (1807 - 10/1873) as Hisakichi in the play Keisei Ishikawa zome ("A Courtesan in Dyed Ishikawa Colors"), performed 1/1866 at the Kado Theater, Osaka.

Yoshiyuki DetailGoemon was a legendary outlaw, the son of the sixteenth-century warrior Takechi (Akechi) Mitsuhide, who was killed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) just before the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate. Hideyoshi ordered the extermination of the entire clan, but the young Goemon survived and years later sought to avenge his father's death by killing Hideyoshi and ruling Japan. After numerous intrigues and escapes (Goemon possessed magical powers and was a master of disguise), he was eventually captured and executed. Goemon's exploits were very popular subjects in legends, songs, fiction, and plays. The first kabuki play was apparently Kinmon (Sanmon) Gosan no Kiri, performed 4/1778 at the Naka Theater, Osaka.

Yoshiyuki depicted the moment when a hawk flies to Goemon as he sits atop the main gate of the Nanzen Temple in Kyoto (see detail above left). The hawk holds in its beak a cloth with an inscription written in blood (in some dramatizations it is a paper attached to the bird's feet), which informs him that his murdered father was involved in a plot to overthrow Japan in the name of the Chinese emperor.

Goemon's bushy wig was meant to signal that he has been on the run and unable to shave his pate for a long time. The colors, although bright and saturated, are controlled and effective, particularly the red used for the column, railing, and walls. There is an elaborate use of metallic pigments, some embossing, and an overall effect that is pleasantly sophisticated. The verticality of the composition and the separation of the two joined sheets into upper and lower stories, divided as well by stylized clouds, also contrasts the two psychological states of the actors. © 1999-2020 by John Fiorillo


  • Ihara, T.: Kabuki Nenpyô ["Chronology of Kabuki"], Tokyo: 1962, vol. 7, p. 132.
  • Ikeda Bunko Shozô: Kamigata shibai-e ten zoroku ["Illustrated Record of an Exhibition of Kamigata Theater Prints"]. Tokyo, 1985, vol. 1, p. 54, no. 1-615.
  • Keyes, R. and Mizushima, K.: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp. 84, 126, and 259.
  • Leiter, S.: Kabuki Encyclopedia: An English Language Adaptation of 'Kabuki jiten'. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979, p. 327.
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