Hiroshige, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets - Yaoya Oshichi

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets: Yaoya Oshichi, 1847. Oban.

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Another terrific print from the finest collection of ukiyo-e of the nineteenth century. In 1845 the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo commissioned the three leading artists of the day, Hiroshige, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi, to contribute to an anthology of 100 poems by 100 poets. The poem is written at the top of the print and a scene from history or drama is illustrated below, each scene being an obscure allusion to the subject of the poem.

Yaoya Oshichi was a young greengrocer's daughter born in 1667 whose family took refuge in a temple following one of the frequent Tokyo (Edo) fires. There she met and fell in love with a  temple page, Kichisa (also called Kabori Samon in some literature). Oshichi thought that if she started another fire she would be able to shelter longer and stay with the boy she loved. Sadly, her arson was witnessed by others and she was found guilty and burnt at the stake as punishment. There was subsequently a great deal of sympathy for the fate of the girl, principally because of her age. The kabuki drama was based on her life and death; however the circumstances were changed to show Oshichi sounding the temple fire alarm in order to see Kichisa. The conclusion remained the same since the false sounding of the alarm was also punishable by death.

The theme of someone dying for love was popular amongst Edo audiences and there were novels, plays and dances based on her tragic and youthful folly. Her grave remains at the Enji-ji Temple and to this day people bring gifts of fruit and vegetables and make pilgrimages there on March the 29th, the day of her death. Hiroshige shows Oshichi in the temple; she is tossing an origami bird over the low screen, presumably to her lover, just visible by his sword and fan. The Osaka actor, Arashi Kiyosaburo, most associated with the role of Oshichi is identified by his family crest of a letter in a circle, visible on her kimono.

The poem, by Koremasa is self explanatory:

Not one person who would / call my plight pathetic / comes at all to mind, / and so my life must surely / come to an end in vain!

A fine print from the series, full size, fine colour, impression and condition.

The print is illustrated in Herwig & Mostow, The One Hundred Poets Compared, Hotei Publishing 2007.

34cm x 22cm.