Ginko, Short Kodan Tales - Ichikawa Sadanji as Ten'ichibo

Ginko Adachi (active 1874 - 1897) Short Kodan Tales: Ichikawa Sadanji as Ten’ichibo, 1874. Oban.

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This dramatic scene is from the artist Ginko Adachi’s best series, enigmatically titled Short Kodan Stories, or Kodan isseki yomikiri. Kodan is a phenomenon that has entirely disappeared from the Japanese scene. Kodan tellers made traditional Japanese folk stories into rhythmical performances, sometimes accompanying themselves with wooden blocks banged together, beating a tempo. In 1700, Nawa Seizaemon became first professional Kodan storyteller. Thereafter, it became wildly popular for many years, and gained a new following after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. It was at this time that the form expanded to include not just the classic standard chronicles but stories about townsfolk, thieves, and vigilantes; the storytellers adapted to their own tastes, their own knowledge, and that of their audience, which was increasingly townsfolk and not nobility. At one point, there were fifty performance halls in Tokyo devoted primarily or exclusively to Kodan. Nothing remains of the form other than an echo in the prints of the period such as this one.

In this piece, we can see the Kodan story book folded open in the upper cartouche and the link between the Kodan form and kabuki is established by casting the actor Ichikawa Sadanji as fraudster and villain, Ten’ichibo. The play, Ten’ichibo is very famous: a peasant named Hotaku, steals money, a note describing the illegitimate birth of a child the same age as him and a sword from an old woman, for the owner of these items could prove that he was a  member of the ruling Tokugawa clan and an heir. He kills the old woman, fakes his own death and adopts the identity of Ten’ichibo. He then attempts to claim his false inheritance but is discovered by the magistrate Ooka and executed. The play has all of the greed and folly of Tess of the d’Urbevilles by the English novelist Thomas Hardy.

Ginko shows Ten’ichibo with the Tokugawa heirloom wrapped in cloth between his teeth. He is pulling himself out of the river where he has dumped his own clothes, stained with the blood of a slaughtered dog in an attempt to fake his own death.

It’s a great print, dynamic, finely drawn. Great colour and impression, littered with mica and burnishing. Impression is fine, condition very good.

Published by Gusoku-ya, signed Oju Ginko hitsu.

25cm x 36cm.