Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) E-sugoroku of Supernatural Heroes, Mid-1860’s. Six Sheet Panel.
This is a beautifully preserved full size print of the traditional Japanese board game, e-Sugoroku. It is an outstandingly good, deluxe production. The individual squares are embossed, over-printed, shaded… exactly like an Edo period ukiyo-e print.The board is a compendium of popular supernatural kabuki and folklore characters. Just the sorts of heroes and villains that an Edo citizen would see at the theatre during a typical season.
The kabuki plays from which this derives its subject matter were a mix of traditional folk tales, novels, epics and heavily embroidered accounts of recent events. Despite the fact the these were expensively produced and drawn by the leading artists of the day, these board games were popular objects, designed to be played with… hence in fact very few survive and notably not in this condition.
The identification of the squares (where possible) starts at bottom left and winds its way up through the 4 levels to the top, lefthand square.
No 1. Yōzoku Orochimaru. Enemy of Jiraita and master of snake magic
No 2. Tsunade (yūfū (brave woman) Tsunade) she was trained in slug magic and enemy of Orochimaru
No 3. Jiraiya and Yuminosuke. Jiraya reclaiming his fortune from the official Yuminosuke having defeated Orochimaru.
No 4. Arajishi Otokonosuke who chased the magical rat that was Nikki Danjo with an iron fan…
No 5. Nippon Daemon. A thief of the Tokaido Road who travelled with a magical stave.
No 6. Tengu Kozo Kiritaro, who was trained by tengu. Tengu are winged demons or spirits known for their fencing abilities, sometimes depicted with bird-like beaks.
No 7. Inuyama Dosetsu Tadatomo performing a magical hand-gesture. One of the Eight Dog Heroes (Hakkenden).
No 8. Unknown (suggestions welcomed).
No 9. Hirai Gonpachi with straw hat
No 10 Suzume Tarō. Presumably the spirit of the tongue cut sparrow holding the money reward for the kind farmer
No 11. Kazama Hachiro. The pirate chief Kazama Hachiro under a waterfall.
No 12. Sutewakamaru. He is shown reading an incantation that will cause him magically to disappear and reappear further down the stage before flying away, (hoisted on wires) scornfully mocking his pursuers.
No 13. Mitsukini making incantations.
No 14. Wakana Hime enchanting a spider, a scene from the kabuki play Shiranui Monogatari.
No 15. Akatsuki Hoshigoro, the larger-than-life bandit. Based on a real-life underworld figure named Shirasu Shozaemon. He used 'fire magic' to harass daimyo retainers.
No 16. Fujinami Yuen Jinnojō taking the form of a butterfly and invoking thousands of insects from a scroll by incantation.
No 17. Narukami shonin. Narukami lived in a hermitage near a waterfall in which he had imprisoned the dragon god.
No 18. Shimidzu no Kwanja Yoshitaka. According to legend, the spirit of a friendly Yamabushi (mountain hermit) took the shape of a big rat to help him in his enterprise, but ineffectively.
No 19. Jiraiya and Companion. One of the greatest kabuki heroes of all time, the magician, Jiraiya, literally, “Young Thunder” . He is the toad riding magical character of the Jiraiya Gōketsu Monogatari (The Tale of the Gallant Jiraiya).
No 20. Scene from Shinkoki. Daizen, Princess Yuki and Tokichi (Hisanoshi) around a game of go.
No 21. Unryu-Kuro. A ninja with the magical ability to summon dragons.
No 22. The Priest Seigen and Princess Sakura. The corrupt priest and his reincarnated male lover as Sakura hime.