Rokkaen Yoshiyuki (六花園芳雪), a student of Ichiôsai Yoshiume (1819-1879), worked in Osaka until around 1868, when he relocated to Tokyo (formerly Edo). He designed woodblock prints almost exclusively in the small chûban format (approx. 250 x 180 mm), which was the predominant ukiyo-e print size in Osaka from the late 1840s into the 1870s. His two main themes were fûkeiga (landscapes: 風景画) and yakusha-e (actor prints: 役者絵). Yoshiyuki is perhaps best known for his contributions to the collaborative series Naniwa hyakkei (One Hundred Views of Osaka: 浪花百景) circa 1860, for which he designed 29 landscapes.
An example from the 100 Views series is shown above, titled Shirinashi Urushizutsumi Jinbei no koya (Jinbei the Ferryman's Hut on the Urushi Embankment of the Shirinashi River: しりなし漆づみ甚兵衛の小屋). The site, adjacent to a rice field reclaimed in 1702, was near the mouth of the Shirinashi River. The Urushizutsumi (Lacquer Riverbank) was built to protect the rice field from river flooding and was named for a row of planted lacquer trees called hazenoki (櫨の木 bot., "Toxicodendron succedaneum") — also referred to as the Japanese wax tree, as wax could be obtained as as a byproduct of lacquer manufacture. The hazenoki were known for their bright red autumn leaves, which became popular with the townspeople of Osaka. The structure at the far left seems to be a small restaurant run by the ferryman Jinbei. Yoshiyuki's composition owes much to the landscape style established by Utagawa Hiroshige I. The use of a tree as a framing device is a specific design element borrowed from the Edo master, as is the simplified depiction of boats whose wind-blown sails serve as their primary characteristic.
Another design by Yoshiyuki for the 100 views is titled Sata-mura Tenmangû (Tenmangû Shrine in Sata Village: 佐太村天満宮). The shrine pictured in the middle distance of Yoshiyuki's print involves Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), a statesman, scholar, and poet who, in 899, was given the second highest government post — Minister of the Right — inciting jealousy among the ruling Fujiwara clan, who falsely accused Michizane of plotting to overthrow the recently enthroned Emperor Daigo. In 901 they exiled Michizane to Kyûshû, where he died two years later. After his death the imperial family as well as the Fujiwara suffered a number of unexpected deaths, and then plagues and natural disasters followed. These events were interpreted as punishment from Michizane's unappeased spirit. He was restored to his rank (in 923), honored with a shrine (the Kitano Tenmangû in 947, which still stands today), and, finally, canonized as a Tenjin (Heavenly Deity) in 987. As for the site depicted in Yoshiyuki's print, the scene was connected to Michizane, it was claimed that he stayed at Sata-mura on his way into exile. The site was restored at the beginning of the Edo period and became popular with travelers due to its location on the highway between Osaka and Kyoto. Although no longer true today due to a tall river wall, in Yoshiyuki's time, as seen in his print, the shrine could be seen from boats moving along the Yodo River (淀川). When passengers spotted the torii (gate: 鳥居) at the Shinto shrine entrance, they would clap and bow in a gesture of worship.
Thus, Yoshiyuki's dramatic print preserves a scene now lost to modern construction and development. Yoshiyuki's choice of composition is unexpected, as the shrine takes second place (visually) to the emphatically rendered descending geese in formation as they fly over the river traffic. The birds create a strong diagonal that counterbalances the slanting rain falling in the opposite direction. The focus on the geese introduces a connection to kachôga (bird and flower pictures: 花鳥画), one of the primary thematic groupings within classical Chinese and Japanese art. These images encompassed depictions of the natural world — birds, flowers, trees, plants, grasses, insects, fishes, and animals.
Yakusha-e (actor prints) constituted the other primary genre for which Yoshiyuki produced a large number of designs. In the first example, shown above, he portrayed the actor Ichikawa Koisaburô (市川鯉三郎) in two roles, as Fuji musume (Wisteria Maiden: ふじ娘) and as a takajô (a falconer: 鷹匠) in Shôbu saku sugata no irodori (菖蒲咲姿彩). While the plot remains obscure, we do know that given the single actor in dual roles, the play (or kabuki dance) must have included a hengemono ("transformation piece": 変化物), a sequence of brief dance pieces in which one actor performs two or more roles of a contrasting nature. They were frequently accompanied by on-stage musicians and featured hayagawari (quick-costume changes: 早替り). Fuji-musume (Wisteria Maiden: 藤娘) was a very popular dance in kabuki. Dating from 9/1826 when it was first staged at the Nakamura-za in Edo, the concept was inspired by a folk-art Ôtsu-e (picture from Ôtsu: 大津絵) depicting a maiden holding a wisteria branch over her shoulder. When performing without other characters, the actor changes kimono four times (one of the robes includes embroidered wisteria blossoms) and dances against a beautiful stage scene of mauve and purple wisteria. There is no plot; instead, the appeal of the dance comes from the elegant movements and gestures, and the fast changes of costume performed on stage behind the trunk of a tree — all enhanced by the charming glances of the maiden as she expresses her sadness over unrequited love after her lover fails to respond to her letters. Much of the time, she is accompanied by musicians and narrator playing and singing a nagauta (long song: 長唄) kudoki (lamentation: 口説).
Within the genre of actor prints, shini-e ("death prints": 死絵) memorialized the passing away of a kabuki performer. An earlier term was tsuizen no nishiki-e (memorial brocade print: 追善の錦絵), but we know that shini-e was used at least by the 1850s. Conventional shini-e often depicted the departed figures in light blue court robes called shini sôzoku (death dresses: 死装束) or mizu kamishimo (ceremonial robes: 水裃). Many shini-e included the date of death and age of the deceased, kaimyô (posthumous name), and temple burial sites, while some included the death poems by the deceased or eulogistic verses written by family or admirers.
Kataoka Gadô II (片岡我童 1810-63) was a highly ranked actor, receiving effusive accolades in the yakusha hyôbanki (actor evaluation books: 役者評判記), such as shi-jô-jô-kichi ("unique, top, top, excellent": 至上上吉). He was most successful as a tachiyaku (leading man: 立役), and given his strikingly good looks, he was particularly admired as a nimaime (handsome and refined young lover: 二枚目), which led to favorable comparisons with the great heartthrob of the period, Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII (1823-54). His death when he was still in his prime dealt a severe blow to the world of kabuki in Osaka.
Gadô II is shown at the upper left as a ghostly form holding prayer beads while he watches over the next generation of Kataoka-family actors, along with his contemporary Arashi Rikan III (who would pass away only two months later). Kadô's pale apparition is shrouded within a spirit cloud emanating from a votive tablet hanging around the neck of his son, Hidetarô. The inscription at the far left indicates Gadô's date of death (Bunkyû 3, second month, sixteenth day) and his posthumous Buddhist name (Ryûsoin Gajo Nikkan Shinshi). The mourners are (R to L): (1) Kataoka Hidetarô I (1857-1934; Gadô II's fourth son; later Gatô III and Nizaemon XI); (2) Kataoka Gatô II (1839-1871; Gadô II's adopted son; posthumously Nizaemon IX in 1907); (3) Arashi Rikan III (1812-4/1863; disciple and heir to Rikan II); and (4) Kataoka Tsuchinosuke I (Gadô II's third son, 1851-95; later Gadô III and Kataoka Nizaemon X). This is a rare and very well printed deluxe impression, with mica and the often-found tarnishing of metallic colorants. There is an earlier state of this design without the figure of Tsuchinosuke at the lower left — making this impression a particularly interesting example of an ireki ("inserted wood": 入木) in which a new element of composition was cut into the original key block.
Note: Rokkaen Yoshiyuki should not be confused with two earlier artists signing in Osaka with their art names (gô) that were pronounced the same but written differently: Yoshiyuki (芳幸 surname Kô or Takaki 高 act. c. 1822) and Yoshiyuki (由幸 act. c. late 1820s). There was also a contemporary Edo artist named Ichireisai Yoshiyuki (一嶺齋芳雪 act. c. 1850s - 1860s) who was a pupil of the famous Edo master Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
Rokkaen Yoshiyuki's Names
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Pupils of Rokkaen Yoshiyuki
So far, no pupils have been identified.
© 2021 by John Fiorillo