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Utamaro print showing


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Kunishige (國重)


Kunishige (國重 act. c. 1847-1855) is one of three ukiyo-e artists from Kamigata (Osaka-Kyoto region) who signed their names with the same ideographs. Active for less than a decade, he seems to have produced roughly 25 actor prints, all but one in chûban-size (中判 approx. 250 x 180 mm); the remaining design, from 3/1853, was in the larger ôban format (大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm). It has been suggested that this Kunishige might have been a student of Ganjôsai Kunihiro (丸丈齋國廣), although that artist disappeared from printmaking around 1841. A more likely mentor could have been Ryûsai Shigeharu (who signed as Kunishige 國重 in 1821-26), who was active until around 1849. Also, this Kunishige appears to be different from yet another artist signing as Kunishige (國重) circa 1832, who was a more likely a student of Kunihiro. Otherwise, all we know are the few prints that he signed in the late 1840s through the mid 1850s.

Kunishige: Arashi Rikaku II (嵐璃珏) as Zundohira (ずんど平)
Play: Osanago no katakiuchi (A child’s revenge: 幼稚子敵討), c. 3/1849 (mitate (見立)
Woodblock print, chûban; Publisher: Ningyôshi (人形市)

The print shown above is one of Kunishige's finest designs. The print commemorates a performance of Osanago no Katakiuchi (A child’s revenge: 幼稚子敵討), circa 3/1849, one of the many katakiuchi-mono (plays about revenge killings: 敵討物) that were so very popular in the puppet and kabuki theaters. In this instance, however, Kunishige's print appears to be a mitate (analog picture: 見立), that is, a portrayal of an actor in a role for which no staging can be found in the kabuki annals. Previously, Arashi Rikaku II (嵐璃珏) presented the same character in the same play in 8/1840 at the Ônishi Theater, Osaka, but the present design was published nearly a decade later. The role of Zundohira (ずんど平) represents a yakko (footman: 奴) in a story about a child named Tamiya Bôtarô (田宮坊太郎) who exacts revenge upon Horiguchi Gentazaemon (堀口源太左衛門), the murderer of his father Tamiya Genpachi (田宮源八). Both adversaries were accomplished swordsmen, although before the murder, Genpachi had defeated Gentazaemon in a duel with wooden swords. The humiliated Gentazaemon then tricked Genpachi into meeting with him unarmed, whereupon he killed his younger opponent. Genpachi's son, born soon thereafter, was raised by a nursemaid named Otsuji (尾辻) in a temple with the sole aim of avenging his father death. He succeeded in doing so when he was only seventeen years of age.

Kunishige: Arashi Rikaku II (嵐璃珏) as I no Hayata (猪の早太)
Yorimasa nue monogatari (頼政鵺物語), Chikugo Theater, Osaka, 10/1851
Carver/Printer/Publisher/Print-seller: Shinsuke (新助)

The play that inspired Kunishige's print shown above was Yorimasa nue monogatari (Tale of Yorimasa and the nue: 頼政鵺物語). This drama featured the legend of Yorimasa slaying the mythical nue in 1153 — as recorded in the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike: 平家物語) from the first quarter of the thirteenth century. Yorimasa, who was a formidable archer, spied on the roof of the emperor's palace roof a strange winged-creature with an ape's head, tiger's claws, badger's (tanuki) back, and snake-head tail. As the emperor was suffering from a life-threatening illness, Yorimasa suspected that the nue was the cause. A single arrow took down the beast, whereupon Yorimasa's retainer (I no Hayata Hironao 猪の早太寛直 also known as Tadazumi) delivered the coup de grâce with his sword.

Kunishige's names and signatures

None recorded

Art names (geimei):
Kunishige (國重)

Art pseudonyms ():
None recorded

© 2021 by John Fiorillo


  • Keyes, R. and Mizushima, K.: Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp. 235-236, 269, nos. 251-259.
  • Kitagawa, Hiroko and Matsudaira, Susumu. Kamigata yakusha-e shûsei (Collection of Kamigata Actor Prints), Vol. III. Osaka: Ikeda Bunko, 2001 [上方役者絵集成 : 財団法人阪急学園池田文庫所蔵 第三巻], pp. 58-61, nos.252-275
  • Lühl, Hendrick: Schätze der Kamigata: Japanische Farbenholzschnitte aus Osaka, 1780-1880 (Treasures of Osaka: Japanese Color Prints from Osaka, 1780-1880). Musee National d'Histoire et d'Art Luxembourg, 2013, p. 243, no. 523.
  • Matsudaira, Susumu: Zenki Kamigata-e (Kamigata Prints in the Former Period, 前期上方絵 Vol. 6). Ed. by Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum, Waseda University: (Waseda Daigaku Tsubouchi Hakase Kinen Engeki Hakubutsukan-hen: 早稲田大学坪内博士記念演劇博物館編)]. Tokyo: Waseda University, 1995, nos. 109, 110, 267, 339, 354.
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