Kunisada, 69 Stations of the Kisokaido Road 51 - Fushimi

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road #51: Fushimi with Arashi Kichisaburo, 1854. Oban.

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In the Sengoku period (15th - 17th century) the shogunate developed five routes crossing the principal districts of Japan. The two most famous routes connected the government capital in Edo (Tokyo) with the Imperial capital in Kyoto. The inland, mountainous route was called the Nakasendo (the Kisokaido) and the coastal route was called the Tokaido. Each of these roads had post stations along the entire length - 53 on the Tokaido and 69 on the Kisokaido. Several artists developed a landscape genre illustrating the post stations of each route. Hokusai is perhaps the earliest in 1804, and Hiroshige the most famous. Hiroshige produced several series from the 1830’s onwards.

In 1852, Kunisada was commissioned to produce a series on the Tokaido Road using modified versions of the earlier Hiroshige series with actor portraits in the foreground. The prohibition on naming actors in woodblock prints meant that the roles only were identified. The series proved to be so popular that Kunisada quickly conceived of a second series based on the Kisokaido. This very fine series is less well known and scarcer in number than the original Tokaido series.

The very fine print here is extremely rare. Confusingly, the series would have been popular and yet I cannot find a record of the print in any museum collection or on any dealer site. It does appear in the catalogue of the series on kunisada.de. The print is of station 51 - Fushimi station - and it shows Arashi Kichisaburo III as the warrior Kato Kiyomasa from a performance of 1842.

Kiyomasa (born 1562) served under Hideyoshi as a general and daimyo. He was put under house arrest in Fushimi after clashing with a fellow general in the Korean war. However, when the Great Fushimi Earthquake occurred in 1596 and Fushimi-jo Castle, where Hideyoshi lived, collapsed, Kiyomasa is said to have quickly hurried to Hideyoshi with a party of 300 soldiers under his command and acted as escort. Given his status under house arrest, hurrying to assist Hideyoshi without the latter's permission could have resulted in Kiyomasa being ordered to commit seppuku; fortunately, Hideyoshi is said to have forgiven Kiyomasa for his faults in Korea, praising his loyalty. Due to this, Kiyomasa was called 'Earthquake Kato.'

Kunisada represents Kiyomasa as played by Arashi Kichisaburo III. The choice of actor and role is obvious for the station at Fushimi given the association between the general and the castle.

A great series, a fine print, colour and impression are all fine. Deep embossing to the collar and shomenzuri to the hat. Slight trimming to the left margin and a lateral crease to the top right edge, otherwise fine condition and unbacked.

Note: The young Yoshitoshi created an actor portrait in 1864 identical to this earlier print by Kunisada and of the same subject. The Yoshitoshi is very rare and unusual in that though he was a pupil of and devoted to Kuniyoshi, he chose Kuniyoshi’s rival Kunisada as the model for this print. Kuniyoshi had covered the same performance back in 1842. 

Publisher: Tsujiokaya Bunsuke.

 25 x 37 cm.