Hirosada, Mimasu Inemaru I as Otowa in Rise of the 1000 Ryo Wrestler

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Mimasu Inemaru I as Otowa in the play 
Sekitori Sen Ryo Nobori ('Rise of the 1,000 Ryō Wrestler'), 1848. Deluxe Chuban.

Click here for a full-size image.

Click here for a full-size image of sheet 2.

Click here for a full-size image of sheet 3.

This print is a real rarity, purchased originally for my own collection, the chuban print pictured here is the best of three which comprise the complete set. We are offering the other two as a kind of ‘bonus’ since their condition is not quite what we would normally advertise.

But, what is going on with those bold ropes and vibrant, solid colours? The set is another in this show’s palimpsests… pictures within pictures. Each print displays a portrait of an actor in a simple red frame, suspended at it were, in front of a mysterious assemblage of rope, and flat and modulated colour. The answer is Sumo. Sumo wrestling was a popular sport in Edo era Japan. When censorship restricted the portrayal of theatre subjects, artists resorted to picturing sumo heroes, and playwrights went on to write plays about sumo, thus enabling artists to picture actors, portraying wrestlers in plays about sumo!

The grey, boldly speckled front part of the print is the Dohyo, the dusty ring in which the bout is held, the rope is the confining area of play and the red striped poles signify the corners of the rink and are a reminder of the pillars that supported the roof when bouts were held outdoors.
The arrangement is pure design, purely abstract, purely invention - quite brilliant. I betray the fact that I love these designs! The print shows the tragic Otowa who sells herself into prostitution to pay for her sumo wrestler husband's debts. The play from which this and the other two prints are derived is Sekitori Sen Ryo Nobori. The plot involves two sumo patrons trying to raise money to rescue another woman from prostitution. Otowa’s husband, Iwagawa Jirokichi agrees to throw the bout but at the expense of his career… hence Otowa’s intervention.

The print of Otowa is richly embossed and the colours are dense and dark. It is a superb and unusual design. The other two prints which illustrate the rival wrestlers are in less good condition, suffering from surface damage as seen in the photographs. All three are backed onto Japanese album paper. Colour and impression are very good. There is a little more information on this print in the Lyon Collection

17 x 25 cm (each sheet).