Kunichika, "Heroes of the Mountain Gate" Sugoroku Board

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) “Heroes of the Mountain Gate” Sugoroku Board, 1865. Six Sheet Panel in Three sections.

Sugoroku is a Japanese board game similar to backgammon or snakes and ladders, depending which version is played. The game has its roots in ancient China and medieval Japan, although it really came to prominence in the nineteenth century where the ease of woodblock printing made it affordable to more people.

Sugoroku boards are rare and they are very collectible. Unlike normal ukiyo prints, these pieces would have been constantly played with and used by the whole family until they fell to pieces. Some museums have examples but many are in poor condition. Kunichika produced several known versions of the Sugoruku game in the 1860’s; this one - the earliest we can find - is from 1865, the beginning of his career; the last known is from 1869.

This huge woodblock depicts heroes of the kabuki stage in front of a great temple gateway or kabuki backdrop. The aim, like snakes and ladders  is to throw dice and move up the battling figures to the top of the roof. There are over twenty well known kabuki characters all engaged in dramatic movement or poses. The style of the drawing owes much to Kunisada and the colour still has its roots in the Edo print world.

Colour and impression are fine, there is some wear to the surface and to the edges where it has been folded; the small roof extensions to either side are missing.

106cm x 50cm.

A further discussion of the game of Sugoroku and this print can be found at our Wordpress Blog.