Ashiyuki, Nakamura Utaemon III as Yakanbei

Gigado Ashiyuki (active. 1813 - 1833) Nakamura Utaemon III as Yakanbei, 1826. Oban.

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This is one of the really outstanding Ashiyuki prints that I have handled. There is real dynamism in the drawing of this supernatural scene… those "fox fires" denoting the presence of a mystical event. I can only find one other copy of this which is nearly identical, in the British Museum, London. The print describes the "fox-catching" event in a Japanese kabuki drama, Ashiya Dôman Ôuchi Kagami.

We see the very famous Osaka actor Nakamura Utaemon III as the porter and servant Yakanbei. What we are not seeing is the mysterious figure of the fox-lady whom Yakanbei and his colleague, Yokanbei have been defending from attack on their journey through the forest… Akihiro Odanaka, Masami Iwai in their book, Japanese Political Theatre in the 18th Century, translate these names as; 'had-better-do-this' and 'had-better-do-that'. Their duplication of name, costume and character mimic the duplication of the tragic heroine in the play who, as an act of kindness is later impersonated by a mystical fox out of pity for the girl’s grieving husband. Hence there are two of everything, the porters, carrying the mystical fox lady are instrumental in bringing about the discovery of her intervention by way of a complex dance… yakan is a homonym for 'fox' in old Japanese. There are many prints that illustrate these two somewhat comic actor characters who often appear alarmingly red in all over body paint!

The plot of the drama is at kabuki21, and another example in print is in the Toshidama Gallery archives.

The print is oban sized, an Osaka print, with exceptional colour. So often Ashiyuki prints if they survive, are considerably faded and in poor condition. In fact, colour, condition and impression are all outstandingly good.

Published by: Wataya Kihei.

38 x 26 cm.