Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Set of Views of Fuji from Edo in Iroha Order: Urami Kuzunoha, 1852. Oban.
This series of prints shows bust portraits of kabuki actors in character in front of a view of Mount Fuji as seen from Edo (modern Tokyo). The cartouche in the right upper corner is bordered by objects from the play. Instead of being numbered, the right upper corner of each cartouche contains a syllable that may be arranged in an alphabet-like order called the iroha. This print, no 21, in the series, shows the actor Bando Shuka I as Urami Kuzunoha… a magical fox capable of transformation, from the kabuki drama, Ashiya dauman ochi kagami.
In the full-length play, Abe no Yasuna is supposed to marry Sakaki-no-Mae. However, she commits suicide before the ceremony because of shame brought about by her family’s past and Yasuna is driven mad with grief. He wanders the countryside and rescues a fox that is being chased by hunters. In gratitude, the magical fox takes the form of Sakaki-no-Mae's younger sister Kuzu-no-Ha and lives with Yasuna quietly in the country. They have a son named Doji. The boy is loves to kill and eat insects and small animals. Kuzu-no-Ha grieves that this a sign that her animal nature has been passed on to her son. But one day, the real Kuzu-no-Ha and her parents come searching for Yasuna and are surprised to find another Kuzu-no-Ha. At this point, the fox Kuzu-no-Ha knows that she must leave and she tearfully parts from her husband and son. She writes a poem on the paper screens which means, "If you would search for me, go to the forest of Shinoda." Her hands gradually change back to animal paws and the final lines of the poem are written with the brush held in her mouth. Yasuna, Doji and the real Kuzu-no-Ha go to try to persuade the fox Kuzu-no-Ha to return, but she says that she is a messenger of the gods and cannot have any more close contact with human beings. But she will always watch over Doji. (Condensed from kabuki21)
The right hand cartouche contains small pictures of the paraphernalia of the play, the left inset shows a view of Mount Fuji, here seen across the rice fields of Ketanboro. Kuniyoshi shows the character of Kuzunoha, clutching her child Doji to her breast whilst gazing wistfully at the landscape of Fuji.
Full size with margins. The print is a very good impression and colour and condition are very good on the whole, excepting some wear to the edges.
A copy of this print is in the British Museum, London.
Published by Ebi-ya Rinnosuke.
26 x 37 cm.