Kunichika, Hagoita of Ichikawa Sadanji as Jiraiya

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Hagoita Series: Ichikawa Sadanji as Jiraiya, 1880’s. Oban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

This print is from a series of prints done in the 1880’s of well known kabuki actors pictured as if painted on the backs of battledore bats. Battledore is similar to badminton and originated in Japan in the 1600’s as the game Hanetsuki. Kunichika started his career as an artist being employed to paint the reverse sides of the bats - called hagoita - which by the Edo period had developed religious, superstitious and cultural value (battledore bats were by then traditional good luck gifts for new born girls). Oshie-Hagoita, paddles designed with images of kabuki actors, became popular. The “Oshie” drawings are usually created with ink or cloth cut out in the shape of flowers and people, and then pasted onto the paddle with cotton stuffing inside them to give them a three dimensional appearance. This series will have had particular significance then for Kunichika.

This type of print is the nearest that true ukiyo-e gets to the western idea of the still life. Here Kunichika pictures the bat and a decorative ball in three dimensions; the actor portrait being in two dimensions when viewed in the shallow space of the picture.

Henri Joly has this to say in entry 227 on games:

HANETSUKI is the game of Battledore and Shuttlecock, specially favoured about the New Year. The shuttlecock consists as a rule of some round seed, perhaps gilt, and into which are fastened several feathers, much like the European article. But the battledore is a heavier implement : made of wood and nearly square, it might be called a bat ; one side of it is purely ornamental, carved with the figure of some hero or of some famous actor. The loser is fined by having his face blackened, or merely rings of ink drawn around his eyes. The game is common to boys and girls.

Kunichika shows the kabuki actor Ichikawa Sadanji as Jiraiya. This rich tale is the subject of numerous kabuki dramas. Here is Joly again, this time on Jiraiya:

JIRAIYA or OGATA SHUME, son of the Lord of Ogata, in his youth was called Young Thunder. At the death of his father in the destruction of his castle, Jiraiya flew to Echigo, which was then infested with robbers. Jiraiya's retainer was killed, and the boy joined the robbers, soon to become their chief. Hearing of the existence of a very rich old man in Shinano, he started alone to rob him, but he was overtaken by a snowstorm, and had to take refuge in a hut inhabited by an old woman. In the night he attempted to murder her, but his sword was broken to pieces, and the woman appeared transformed into a man, SENSO DOJIN, who revealed himself as being the Toad Spirit, and finally taught him all the toad magic, which gave him power to control the frogs, but which had no effect upon snakes. Later, he met a girl whom a Sennin had advised to marry him, and to whom the sage gave the secret of the magic of the Snail, to enable Jiraiya to kill OROCHIMARU (Dragon Coil Robber), the son of the serpent, who lived at the bottom of the lake TAKURA, and was helping the INUKAGA clan in their war against the TSUKIKAGE. One day while they were resting in a temple, the snake crawled upon the ceiling of the room, and poured its venom upon the head of Jiraiya, carrying away with him his own affianced bride, the Princess TAGOTO, who had fled from him with Jiraiya. The Abbot of the temple was, however, equal to the occasion, and sent to India, on a Tengu, the retainer RIKIMATSU, to fetch the only available elixir. The man returned in time for Jiraiya to be saved and made Daimio of IDZU. He is often represented slaying the serpent, or busy with magical preparations with the toad spirit (see Griffis). This story forms the theme of a popular play of the same name.

A great and complex print. Colour, condition and impression are all fine, shomen-zuri to ball. Trimming to top edge.

Published by Kamimura Seizaemon.

37 x 24 cm.