Yoshikuni, Onoe Kikugoro III as Kanshoji

Jukodo Yoshikuni (active 1813 - 1831) Actor Onoe Kikugoro III as Kanshoji, 1828. Oban.

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This is a fine Osaka print of the actor Onoe Kikugoro III. He is in the role of Kanshoji, a romantic and semi-mythical figure in Japanese folklore. Kan Shoji is the stage name given to an actual noble of the 9th century, Sugawara Michizane. His story is ordinary enough… a tenth century nobleman at court who fell from favour and died in exile. Yet his character comes through strongly… that of a tough and principled minister, one who spent his life at the heart of government. Put simply, he served successive rulers and wrote copious amounts of poetry.

With the abdication of Emperor Uda, Michizane's position became increasingly vulnerable. In 901, through the political manoeuvrings of his rivals, Michizane was demoted from his aristocratic rank to a minor official post and died in exile. After Michizane's death, plague and drought spread and the sons of Emperor Daigo died in succession. The Imperial Palace's Great Audience Hall was struck repeatedly by lightning, and the city experienced weeks of rainstorms and floods. Attributing this to the angry spirit of the exiled Sugawara, the imperial court built a shrine in Kyoto, and dedicated it to him. They posthumously restored his title and office, and struck from the record any mention of his exile. Even this was not enough, and 70 years later Sugawara was deified as a god of scholarship. Today many Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to him.

The playwrights managed to create myths and legends around his name and he became Kanshoji, god of thunder and lightning… presumably because of the incidents after his death. He is often shown running through storm clouds with lightning crashing around him. His other motif is the plum branch that he holds between his teeth. He wrote many poems and one of his best known is about his sorrow at leaving his plum trees in Kyoto on his way to exile:

When the East Wind blows, flourish in full bloom, you, plum blossoms! Even though you lose your master, don't be oblivious to spring.

Yoshikuni depicts Kan Shojo as a Thunder God, striking his enemies, a scene from the final act of the kabuki play about his life and times. The design and drawing of this print is outstanding and the impression is fine. The colour is tremendously well preserved for the date and the vestigial purple of the trousers has stood up well. The yellow background remains bright, but there have been issues with worming in the past, particularly to the right hand side, which have been professionally restored.

Published by Honsei.

27 x 38.5 cm.