Kunichika, 100 Roles of Baiko - Tenjiku Tokubi

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Baiko (Baiko Hyakushu no Uchi): Tenjiku Tokubi, 1893. Deluxe Oban.

In this print from the great Baiko series of 1893, Baiko plays the controversial traveller Tenjiku Tokubi. The play  from which the print is derived has the same name. The plot is vastly inexplicable and over-complicated; the character though was a Japanese adventurer and writer of the early 17th century. He travelled to Southeast and South Asia, hence his nickname, meaning India.

He was born in 1612. His father was a salt wholesaler and at the age of fifteen, in 1626, he was hired by a trading company in Kyoto. He pursued commercial activities aboard Japanese Red Seal Ships. In 1627, Tokubei visited China, Vietnam and Siam. He stayed for some time in Siam and again visited the country on board one of the ships of the Dutch adventurer Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn. He also sailed to India, to the source of the Ganges, and returned with great wealth and numerous stories to tell. Upon his return to Japan, and after the introduction of the Seclusion policy Tokubei wrote about his adventures in foreign countries, which became very popular in Japan. It is his flirtation with the ideas and trappings of Christianity - then outlawed in Japan - and the implication that he was an adept at magic as a result, that led to him becoming a folk hero. There were numerous dramas and plays and puppet shows written about him. In the nineteenth century his character was revived and the theatres put on lavish shows with staggeringly expensive and dramatic special effects with water and other tricks. Rumours that these tricks were performed with illegal Christian magic quickly led to an investigation by officials of the Shogunate. It is firmly believed that these rumours may have been started deliberately as a publicity stunt. Instead of closing down the show, it made it wildly popular and gave it a sensational three-month run - unprecedented for a play that started as a stopgap, summer production. The kabuki actor Onoe Matsusuke plays Sokan, Tokubi’s father, pictured in the upper cartouche.

Kunichika was an aficionado and intimate of all the great kabuki actors of the day. The actor Onoe Kikugoro V was such a friend. He was a hugely successful actor who took the stage name Baiko from the pen name of his ancestor Onoe Kikugoro, who died in 1783. In 1893 Kunichika was commissioned by the publisher Fukuda Kumajiro to produce one hundred prints celebrating the roles of the great actor. The series (like the Danjuro) was printed on the finest paper and used all of the deluxe techniques available to artists at the time: the surfaces are sprinkled with mica and lavishly embossed and burnished with deep reflective blacks and shomenzuri patterns.

A very fine print from the series, colour, condition and impression are all fine.

Published by Fukuda Kumajiro.

38cm x 26cm.