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VJP title
Utamaro print showing


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Kaishuntei Sadayoshi (魁春亭貞芳)


Kaishuntei Sadayoshi (魁春亭貞芳), active c. 1832-1853, was a pupil of Gochôtei Kunimasu [Sadamasu] (五蝶亭國升 [貞升]) in Osaka and Utagawa Kunisada I (一代 國貞) in Edo. He produced designs for over 140 woodblock prints, with the majority in smaller sizes (chûban, koban, mameban), although about one-third were in the larger ôban format. His surviving paintings are few, but they exhibit notable skill in brushwork and chromatic potency.

Arashi Rikaku II (嵐璃珏) as Inuzuka Shino (犬づか信乃)
Hana no ani tsubomi no yatsufusa (Eight buds of the Plum Blossom: 花魁莟八総)
Print Title: Honchô Hideyoshi (Hideyoshi in Our Land: 本朝英勇志), 5/1848
Woodblock print, deluxe ôban, published by Wataya Kihei (綿屋喜兵衞)

Sadayoshi worked with 14 different publishers, most frequently Tenmaya Kihei 天満屋喜兵衛), and portrayed at least 38 actors who, in total, performed in eight or more theaters. A small number his prints (around 8%) were published as jôzuri-e (top quality or deluxe editions: 上摺絵). Nearly every design is a yakusha-e (actor print: 役者絵), although there are two known sumô-e (wrestler prints: 相撲絵) and two bijinga (pictures of beautiful women: 美人画) that happen to also be double-ôban kappazuri-e (stencil prints: 合羽摺絵). There are, as well, a few mameban designs related to historical military events where the faces are not intended to be actor likenesses, that is, they are generic physiognomies. In a similar realm, some musha-e (warrior prints: 武者絵) by Sadayoshi have also been documented.

The print shown above is typical of Sadayoshi's later actor portraiture in the small chûban format (中判 250 x 180 mm). As a student of Kunimasu, he adopted a mode of stylized actor portraiture emphasizing an emphatic outlining of forms, translated into prints by highly skilled block carvers and printers. The Osaka-style yakusha-e went through a disruptive change brought on by the Tenpô kaikaku ("Tenpô Reforms": 天保改革), edicts that in 7/1742 banned, among other things, actor prints or published stories associated with kabuki. When print publishing resumed after four and half years, the chûban format began to dominate the market, supplanting the larger ôban (大判 370 x 280 mm). During this late period, the chûban actor print flourished in the hands of the leading designers of the 1840s and 1850s, including Kunimasu, Hirosada, and Sadayoshi himself. The portrait shown here commemorates the actor Arashi Rikaku II in Hana no ani tsubomi no yatsufusa (Eight buds of the plum blossom: 花魁莟八総), written by Nishikawa Ippo in 1836, the second earliest kabuki adaptation of Satomi hakkenden mono (Plays about biographies of eight dogs of Satomi: 里見八犬傳物). The saga was derived from episodes in Kyokutei (Takizawa 滝沢) Bakin's (曲亭馬琴 1767-1848) classic 106-volume epic called Nansô Satomi hakkenden (Biographies of eight dogs of Nansô Satomi: 南總里見八犬傳) serialized in 1814-1842. The saga celebrates nine generations of a fictional clan, the Satomi in Nansô (Awa province), in particular, the exploits of eight sibling samurai, each embodying a particular Confucian virtue (in order of their appearance in the drama):  (孝) - filial piety or devotion; gi (義) - duty and obligation; chû (忠) - loyalty; shin (信) - faith; tei (悌) - brotherhood; jin (仁) - sympathy and benevolence; chi (知) - wisdom; and rei (礼) - courtesy). The brothers, corresponding in order of the virtues just listed, are: Inuzuka Shino Moritaka (犬塚信乃戍孝), who is shown in Sadayoshi's print; Inukawa Sôsuke Yoshitô (犬川荘助義任); Inuyama Dôsetsu Tadatomo (犬山道節忠與); Inukai Genpachi Nobumichi (犬飼現八信道); Inuta Kobungo Yasuyori (犬田小文吾悌順); Inue Shimbei Masashi (犬江親兵衛仁); Inuzaka Keno Tanetomo (犬阪毛野胤智); and Inumura Daikaku Masanori (犬村大角礼儀).

Utagawa Sadayoshi
Tsuizen-e (memorial print: 追善絵) 7/1838
(R to L) Actors Arashi Rikan II, Arashi Sangorô IV, Nakamura Matsue II, and Nakamura Utaemon III
Woodblock prints, chûban triptych, published by Honya Seishichi (本屋清七)

A second example of Sadayoshi's work in the chûban format is shown above, a triptych memorializing the passing of four actors. Upon the death of Osaka's most popular actor of the period, Nakamura Utaemon III (三代目 中村歌右衛門 1778–7/25/1838 on the lunar calendar), the kabuki world (both in Osaka and Edo) mourned his passing. Huge crowds gathered for his funeral, including many kabuki stars and their numerous pupils. Actors, artists, and writers recited poems in his honor, and early the following year an anthology of documents and eulogistic poetry was published, with illustrations by Ryûsai Shigeharu, titled Baigyoku yokyô (Baigyoku's Lingering Voice), with "Baigyoku" (梅玉) being the actor's haigô (poetry name: 俳号). The printmaking industry marked the sad event with the publication of many shini-e (death prints: 死絵) and tsuizen-e (memorial prints: 追善絵). Most unusual among all the productions in Osaka was Sadayoshi's homage not only to Utaemon III, but to three other actors who had shared the stage with him at one time or another. Most prominent among them was Arashi Rikan II (二代目 嵐璃寛 1788-6/13/1837), for whom this tsuizen-e honored the one-year anniversary of his death. Next in the hierarchy was Arashi Sangorô IV (四代目 嵐三五郎 1804-6/25[29]/1837), who also died the previous year. The actor who had enjoyed the least acclaim during his career was Nakamura Matsue II (二代目 中村松江 died 6/15/1835), for whom this triptych commemorated his third-year death anniversary. First-year and third-year memorials were conventional anniversaries for memorial services (by tradition, later commemorations were also held in the seventh, thirteenth, seventeenth, twenty-third, twenty-seventh, and thirty-third years). The scene by Sadayoshi depicts the three actors already in paradise greeting Utaemon III, ready to ferry him across the lotus pond to the pavilion where Rikan II eagerly awaits the arrival of his great contemporary.

Gohyôtei Sadayoshi ga (五瓢亭貞芳画)
Nakamura Shikan II (中村芝翫 = earlier name for Utaemon IV)
Toban tabinaka no zu (View of traveling the road up to the capital: 登板旅中之圖), 2/1838
Woodblock print, ôban, co-published by Kawaji (河治) & Oki (置)

In early 1838, Nakamura Utaemon IV (until 1/1836 he used the pseudonym or Shikan II, which still appears on this print), along with fellow actors Arashi San'emon IX, Asao Okuyama, Nakamura Kaei, Nakamura Kan'emon, Nakamura Komasuke, Nakamura Tsurugorô, and Nakamura Tsuruzô I, traveled together to Edo. The month before, Utaemon IV had suffered through a wage dispute with the management of the Naka Theater and decided to abandon Osaka for Edo. For his fans, he offered a farewell performance in 1/1838. The print shown above, titled Toban tabinaka no zu (View of traveling the road up to the capital: 登板旅中之圖), depicts Shikan as he journeys northeast up to Edo. Shikan stands by his kago (palanquin: 駕籠 or 駕) while smoking tobacco from his kiseru (pipe: 烟管). The inset offers a view of Mt Fuji (富士山). Two publishers collaborated on issuing this design — Kawaji (河治) & Oki (置, whose name was taken from the family name, Tamaoki, of the publishing firm Honya Seishichi). Presumably, Sadayoshi did not directly observe Utaemon IV during his relocation to Edo, but instead produced this design imaginatively. Indeed, it has a stage-like appearance as if drawn from a kabuki scene. The gourd-shaped red cartouche is outlined in yellow with stylized hiragana for Yoshi (よし), the second part of the artist's geimei or art name.

Kaishuntei Sadayoshi
Sawamura Tokiwa (沢村ときわ) as Taruya Osen (樽やおせん)
Meisaku kiriko no akebono (名作切籠曙), Onishi Theater (大西), 8/1842
Woodblock print, deluxe ôban, published by Wataya Kihei (綿屋喜兵衞)

Among Sadayoshi's ôban-format designs is the fine deluxe-edition example shown above, a portrayal of Sawamura Tokiwa (沢村ときわ) as Taruya Osen (樽やおせん) in Meisaku kiriko no akebono (名作切籠曙) at the ônishi Theater, Osaka. It was issued just after the start of the Tenpô kaikaku ("Tenpô Reforms": 天保改革), edicts that in 7/1742 banned, among other things, actor prints or published stories associated with kabuki. Presumably, the blocks had been cut before the edicts actually took effect and so were allowed to be used in commemoration of Meisaku kiriko no akebono when the play was staged on the fifth day of the eighth month. Within a few weeks, Osaka printmaking came to a virtual halt, finally to resume in early 1847 (although actors' names were almost always omitted for years afterwards to comply with the letter of the law). The poem reads, Yukitake mo sorowa nu odori issho kana (The kimono doesn't fit me — a dance costume). The uchiwa (rigid fan: 團扇) and top of the banner bear the mon (crest: 紋) of the Sawamura family of actors. The artist's red seal at the far lower right remains unread.

Kataoka Gadô II (片岡我堂) in two roles
(1R) Wankyû 椀久 (Kinashi-ya Kyūbei 木無屋久兵衛); (2R) Yamazaki Yogorô (山崎与五郎)
(1R) Chigusa no midarezaki (千種の乱咲); (2R) Futatsu chôchô kuruwa nikki (双蝶々曲輪日記 )
Mitate (見立), circa 7/1847
Print Title (on each sheet): Shokoku hanka shû (諸國繁華集)
Woodblock prints, koban diptych, published by Tenmaya Kihei (天満屋喜兵衛)

As mentioned earlier, Sadayoshi worked frequently in rather small formats, called koban (小判 230 x 160 down to 190 x 130 mm) and mameban (豆判 130 x 100 mm or smaller). In the koban diptych shown above, titled Shokoku hanka shû (A Compilation of Prosperity in All the Provinces of the Land: 諸國繁華集), the actor Kataoka Gadô II (片岡我堂) is portrayed in two roles: (right) Wanya Kyûbei or Wankyû, here identified as Kinashi-ya Kyūbei (木無屋久兵衛) and (left) Yamazaki Yogorô (山崎与五郎). On the right, Gadô wears the conventional robe for the role, patterned with fish and bamboo (sparrows, too, are sometimes included, although not here). The hôroku zukin (purple cloth priest's hat: 焙烙頭巾) had also, by this time, become part of the kata (fixed forms: 型) for the role of Wankyû, as did the black jacket thrown over his shoulder. Based on a true incident, the first dance, written by a choreographer named Fujima Kanbei II (died 1785), was called Ninin Wankyû (Two-person Wankyû: 二人椀久), staged in 1734 at the Ichimura-za in Edo (a later reworking with nearly the same text, Sono omokage ninin Wankyû, appeared in 1774 at the same theater). Other adaptations followed, including Chigusa no midarezaki (A thousand causes for disorders to bloom: 千種の乱咲). In real life, Wankyû, the son of a wealthy Osaka merchant, fell in love with the courtesan Matsuyama of the Shinmachi pleasure quarter. He spent his fortune on her, forcing his parents to lock him up in their house. The separation from his love induced madness. When he escaped from confinement, Wankyû danced in the streets and became an object of derision and ridicule. It was reported that he drowned himself in the Aji River. In the kabuki dance, the deranged Wankyû dreams that he is with Matsuyama, but ultimately the illusion is shattered and he collapses in grief.

Futatsu chôchô kuruwa nikki (Diary of two butterflies in the licensed quarters: 双蝶々曲輪日記 ) is a tale of two sumô wrestlers, Hanaregoma Chôkichi, and Nuregami Chôgorô. The central theme involves an attempt to thwart the ransom of a courtesan named Fujiya Azuma by the evil samurai Hiraoka Goemon (also Chôkichi's patron) in favor of Chôgorô's sponsor, Yamazaki Yogorô, whom Azuma loves. Late in the drama, Chôgorô murders four men to help Azuma and Yogorô escape from Goemon. In Sadayoshi's print above left, Gadô II is shown holding a samisen (three-stringed instrument: 三味線) and a folding fan.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Okabe (岡部) Station (original 1845)
Neko-ishi (Cat Stone: 猫石)
Series: Tôkaidô gojûsan tsui (東海道五十三対)
Woodblock print, ôban
Reduced-size copy of Okabe, c. 1846-48
Neko-ishi (Cat Stone: 猫石)
Woodblock print, koban, pub. Tenki (天喜)

Around 1845, three leading Utagawa artists in Edo — Kuniyoshi, Kunisada, and Hiroshige — collaborated on an ôban-format print series titled Tôkaidô gojûsan tsui (Fifty-three Pairs [Parallels] of the Tôkaidô: 東海道五十三対). Issued by six different publishers, the set was enormously popular and went through several editions. Images from the series reached Osaka, of course, and must have sold well, as the publisher Tenmaya Kihei (天満屋喜兵衛) contracted with Sadayoshi and his contemporary Gosôtei Sadahiro to provide sketches for a collaborative, reduced-sized version of the set. Sadayoshi produced 26 drawings for this project, and Sadahiro the remainder, which happened to be 30 designs. An example by Sadayoshi is shown above right, for Okabe (岡部) Station. The inscription on Kuniyoshi's design (shown above left) explains that a "cat stone" (neko-ishi: 猫石) near Okabe resembled a reclining cat, which became associated with the legend of an old wild cat that had transformed itself into a dangerous hag, frightening and harming many people. After the cat died, stories spread about a feline that had turned itself into the stone.

By the mid to late 1840s, small copies by Osaka artists for reissues of print designs by Edo artists were not rare. Whether these images were about legends or picturesque landscapes (Hiroshige and Hokusai were sometimes copied), "reappropriated" designs such as these were common enough to suggest that print consumers in Osaka enjoyed works by local artists that went beyond the actor-print genre, regardless of how familiar they might have been with the Edo originals. The charge of plagiarism was rarely, if ever, leveled, as copying the designs of other artists was part of the didactic art tradition in painting and prints, and the publication and sale of copies was deemed acceptable. Copyright as we know it today did not exist in the Edo period and ownership of the carved blocks fell to the publishers, not the artists. In koban-size interpretations such as the Okabe subject shown here, compromises were often necessary, as the small formats lacked the more expansive pictorial spaces of the larger ôban sheets, thereby making it a challenge to reproduce all of the refined details from the originals. It was more often than not a matter of time and money, not of ability and skill, as carvers could render almost any miniaturized variant and fine detail, should the effort and expense seem warranted. Regardless, retention of the finest details was not the purpose of most of these small copies. Thus, in Sadayoshi's koban print, less care was taken with the cat's fur and the patterns on the robes. Many of the lines throughout the composition seem thicker, proportional to the koban format, than in the ôban version.

Gohyôtei Utagawa Sadayoshi ga (五瓢亭歌川貞芳画)
Ko Toyokuni ihitsu (Imitating a painting by the late Toyokuni: 倣豊國遺筆)
Arashi Sanpachi I (初代嵐三八) in three roles
Hanging scroll, colors and gold on silk, image: 400 x 550 mm
British Museum (Reg. no. 2004,0622,0.1)

The rare surviving kakemono-e (hanging-scroll painting: 掛物絵) by Sadayoshi shown above portrays Arashi Sanpachi I (初代 嵐三八 1750-1812) in three kabuki roles. Sanpachi, who used the name Arashi Mitsuemon (嵐三津右衛門) temporarily from 11/1795 to 11/1797, was a popular actor specializing in role types called katakiyaku (villain: 敵役) and jitsuaku (conspiratorial villiain: 実悪). Sanpachi trained in Kamigata but also successful in Edo from the mid-1790s to the early 19th century. In this homage to Utagawa Toyokuni I (歌川豊國 1769-1825), Sadayoshi did not fully adopt an Edo-mannered nigao (facial likeness: 似顔), but instead retained elements of the prevailing style found in Osaka printmaking, which resulted in a fascinating hybrid physiognomy.

Sadayoshi's names/signatures/seals

Utagawa (歌川)

Personal Name::
Higoya Sadashichirô (肥後屋貞七郎)

Art names (geimei):
Sadayoshi (貞芳)

Art pseudonyms ():
Baisôen (梅窓園)
Gofûtei (五飄亭)
Gohyôtei (五瓢亭)
Kaishuntei (魁春亭)
Kokuhyôtei (國瓢亭)
Aoiseisai (葵生齋) on a bijin kakemono kappazuri-e

Poetry Name (haimyô):
Baisōen Kinkin (梅窓園琴金)

Pupils of Sadayoshi

Utagawa Yoshitsugu (歌川芳次 act. c. 1830s)

© 2021 by John Fiorillo


  • Fiorillo, John and Ujlaki, Peter: "Ryûsai Shigeharu: 'Quick Change' Dances in the Utaemon Tradition," in: Andon, nos. 72-73. Leiden: Society for Japanese Arts, 2002, pp. 115-135.
  • Keyes, Roger and Mizushima, Keiko: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp. 150-151, no. 55, and pp. 242, 273.
  • Leiter, Samuel: New Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki Jiten. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997, p. 473.
  • 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.
  • Marks, Andreas: Tôkaidô Texts and Tales: Tôkaidô gojûsan tsui by Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige, and Kunisada. University Press of Florida, 2015, pp. 84-85, no. 22.
  • Matsudaira, Susumu: Kamigata yakusha-e shûsei (Collection of Kamigata actor prints), Vol. III. Osaka: Ikeda Bunko, 2001, pp. 43-48, nos. 176-204.
  • Schwaab, Dean: Osaka Prints. New York: Rizzoli, 1989.
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