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VJP title
Utamaro print showing


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Hamamatsu Utakuni (濱松歌國)


Hamamatsu Utakuni (濱松歌國 1776-1827, act. c. mid-1810s), was an author, essayist, kabuki playwright, book illustrator, and actor-print designer. His art training is uncertain, although he might have been a pupil of Kyôgadô Ashikuni. Utakuni's family business seems to have been in cotton goods, and one of his Osaka addresses is recorded as Shimanouchi Aburamachi 2-chôme. Although listed as a kabuki playwright around 1800, in that regard Utakuni was mainly engaged in historical research for kabuki plays.

Hamamatsu Utakuni katakiuchi diptych original
Hamamatsu Utakuni (濱松歌國)
(R) Kataoka Nizaemon VII (片岡仁左衛門) as Kasahara Rôô (笠原老翁)
(L) Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵)
Katakiuchi nitô eiyuki (A tale of revenge and great courage: 復讐二島英勇記), Naka Theater, Osaka, 3/1814
Woodblock prints, ôban diptych (392 x 521 mm)

Among other things, Utakuni wrote actor critiques (yakusha hyôbanki: 役者評判記) about the superstar Nakamura Utaemon III ((三代目 中村歌右衛門 Shikan I 芝翫) and his fans. In 1810 Utakuni and his co-author Baishiken Hakuo (梅枝軒泊鶯) wrote Shosan gashi — Shikan-cho (Elegant Praises — Shikan Album: 賞賛画詞 芝翫帖) with woodblock-printed text, poems, and images interspersed with surimono color and monochrome illustrations by Yamanaka Shonen (山中松年 died 1819). Another Utaemon III critique by Utakuni appeared in 1815, titled Hiiki no hanamichi (Fandom’s Runway, 贔屓の花道). He also wrote Shinsaibashidôri karamonomachi (心斎橋通唐物町) in 1817, also published in Osaka.

A design from the early period of Osaka printmaking by Utakuni is shown above. This portrayal of Kataoka Nizaemon VII (片岡仁左衛門) as Kasahara Rôô (笠原老翁) and Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵) in Katakiuchi nitô eiyuki (A tale of revenge and great courage: 復讐二島英勇記), Naka Theater, Osaka, was published by Shioya Chôbei (塩屋長兵衛) in 1/1814. Katakiuchi nitô eiyuki draws upon various legends about the historical Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584-1645; 宮本 武蔵), whose name meant "Storehouse of military knowledge." Born in Mimasaka or Harima, Japan, he was an expert swordsman and the son of the celebrated fencing master Yoshioka Tarozaemon, a retainer of the Ashikaga shôgun Yoshiteru. Musashi was a bold and reputedly reckless adventurer who nevertheless survived armed combat more than 60 times and died a natural death on June 13, 1645 in Higo. 

Kasahara Rôô is the theatrical name for the celebrated fencing master Kasawara Bokuden, whom Musashi encountered after getting lost in the mountains. As Musashi bragged about his exploits, Rôô (literally "old man") laughed, whereupon Musashi attacked him. Kasawara easily parried the young hot-head's sword thrusts — with a saucepan lid(!), which he holds in Utakuni's print. When Musashi discovered Kasawara's identity, he apologized and stayed with the old teacher to learn more advanced fighting techniques.

Katakiuchi nitô no eiyuki was one of the many popular tales of vengeance and retribution, "revenge plays" called katakiuchi mono (敵討物) or adauchi mono (仇打ち物). In one such incident, Musashi adroitly used a wooden sword — a deadly weapon in the hands of a master — to slay the murderer of his father. Today, Musashi is widely known as the author of Gorin no sho (The Book of Five Rings: 五輪書), a book on military tactics, strategy, and philosophy. After its first English translation in 1974, the treatise captured the popular imagination and was seriously studied by business executives in the West to understand Japanese management techniques and strategies.

Saikotei Shibakuni katakiuchi diptych ireki
Saikôtei Shibakuni (西光亭芝國)
(R) Kataoka Nizaemon VII (片岡仁左衛門) as Kasahara Rôô (笠原老翁)
(L) Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵)
Katakiuchi ganryûjima (Revenge at Ganryû Island: 敵討巌流島), Kyoto Kitakawa Theater, 5/1820
Woodblock prints, ôban diptych (392 x 473 mm)

Saikôtei Shibakuni (西光亭芝國 act. circa 1820-1833) designed modifications for both sheets of Utakuni's design to be printed by altering the original blocks, in this instance deleting the background and substituting color blocks for falling snow, and changing some of the clothing patterns and colors. This was done for a performance of Katakiuchi ganryûjima (Revenge at Ganryû Island: 敵討巌流島) at the Kyoto Kitakawa Theater in 5/1820. Shibakuni also substituted his signature for Utakuni's, and the seal of the first publisher Shioya Chôbei (塩屋長兵衛) was changed to Toshin (利新 Tokuraya Shinbei 利倉屋新兵衞). Reworking original blocks was a fairly common practice in ukiyo-e; the process was called ireki ("inserting wood": 入木). Sometimes the purpose was to repair damages, but often changes were made for other reasons, such as updating the faces of actors, revising inscriptions, and changing backgrounds, as in the present example.

Moreover, the design remained popular enough to appear in yet another ireki state, although for the left sheet only, as an alteration of Shibakuni's ireki nishiki-e by the little known Kyoto artist Nanpitsu Kashô (南華可笑 act. c. 1820-26), who produced an even less expensive stencil-print edition. It was probably issued for the same Kyoto performance of Katakiuchi ganryûjima, with Kashô's signature replacing Shibakuni’s and substituting the Kyoto publisher seal of Kanôki (叶喜 Kanôya Kitarô 叶屋喜太郎 who resided at Kyoto Nawateishi-mae) for Toshin's. The Toshin and Kanôki ireki editions were likely issued without the knowledge of the original artist, Utakuni, even though he was still alive at the time of their publication. Ukiyo-e artists such as Utakuni did not own the rights to the original blocks (the publishers held such ownership during the Edo period). So the first publisher Shiochô probably sold the rights to the carved blocks to Toshin, and then Toshin did to same to place the ireki key-block in the hands of Kanôki.

Hamamatsu Utakuni's Names

Hamamatsu (濱松)
Yaegaki (八重牆)

Personal Names:
Nunoya Ujisuke (布屋氏助)
Seibei (清兵衛);

Art Name (jinmei):
Utakuni (廣信)

Art Pseudonym ():
Shikitei (in 1816, as cited in literature)

Literary Name (haigô):
Fûfûtei Nansui (風々南水)

Pupils of Hamamatsu Utakuni

There appear to be no recorded pupils of Hamamatsu Utakuni in the standard published literature.

Note: There was another artist whose art name was pronounced "Utakuni," but written differently (雨多國). He used the art pseudonym "Naniwa" (浪花) and was active as a print designer circa 1824. © 2021 by John Fiorillo


  • Keyes, Roger and Mizushima, Keiko: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, p. 278.
  • Kitagawa, Hiroko and Matsudaira, Susumu: Kamigata yakusha-e shûsei (Collection of Kamigata Actor Prints), Vol. III. Osaka: Ikeda Bunko, 2001, nos. 371-449.
  • 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, pp. 132, 456, 485.
  • Marks, Andreas: Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2011, p. 191 (no. 210).
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