Bunraku Theater Stage Set for Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami from the Illustrated Collection of Famous Japanese Puppets of the Osaka Bunrakuza

Seitaka Dōji from the folio Collection of One Hundred Kumadori Makeups in Kabuki, Collection 2

 Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Bunraku Theater Stage Set for

Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami

[Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy]

from the Illustrated Collection of Famous Japanese Puppets of the Osaka Bunrakuza

Hasegawa Sadanobu III, post-WWII (orig. 1927)

Portrait of Saigō Takamori

IHL Cat. #1528

About This Print

An illustration of the stage set for the opening scene of Act III “Tearing the Carriage Apart” in the play Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami [Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy]. In this set an ox drawn carriage sits in front of Yoshida Shrine in Kyoto.  Sakuramaru and Ummaru will battle their blood triplet brother Matsuōmaru over control of the carriage carrying Great Minsiter Shihei and the carriage and its axle will be reduced to mangled splinters.1

The play is one of the “Three Masterpieces” of the puppet theater along with Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura and Kanadehon Chūshingura.  It was written in 1746 by Namiki Sōsuke (Senryū) (1695-1751), Miyoshi Shōraku (1696-1772) and Takeda Koizumo (Izumo II) (1691–1756).

This print is a later edition published by Uchida Publishing and lacks the tissue overlay present in the 1927 release showing the outlines of the three puppets on stage.

1 Sugawara and the Secrets of CalligraphyStanleigh H Jones, Columbia University Press, 1985, p. 154-156.

Bunraku Stage Set

Stage Set for  Ehon Taikoki (Records of the Taiko)

Source: Bunraku: The Art of the Japanese Puppet Theatre, Donald Keene and Hiroshi Kaneko, Kodansha International, Ltd., 1965, p. 22.
For those unfamiliar with the stage set for bunraku the following passages from Donald Keene's Bunraku: The Art of the Japanese Puppet Theatre are instructive:

"Soon after the chanter enters his description of the new scene, the curtain is drawn aside to reveal the set, a naturalistic rendering of a landscape or interior. If the backdrop represents an outdoor scene, it is painted on a series of vertical panels which may be moved laterally to suggest that characters (who remain in one place) are traveling. If an interior, the gate, framework of the house, and generally one room are depicted, with the suggestion of other rooms beyond.  A garden or nearby building may also be represented. A doorway at the rear-center of the stage is usual, for it permits the female characters to make spectacular exits, displaying their figures from behind. Very few props are used; unless necessary to the action, the furnishings are generally painted on the backdrop, to allow the operators the maximum freedom of movement.

The Bunraku stage, traditionally 36 feet wide, 25 feet deep, and 15 feet high, is divided into various playing areas. The main stage occupies about half the total area, and often serves as the interior of a house. Three raised partitions of different heights run across the width of the stage, standing before the trench-like passages in which the operators work. The partitions conceal the lower half of the principal operator's body, more of the operator of the left hand (who does not wear high-platformed clogs), and almost all of the operator of the feet; at the same time, they provide the apparent floor or ground level on which the puppets walk or sit. To the audience's right is a dais projecting into the auditorium from the stage. There the chanter perches on bulky cushions before an elaborately fashioned reading-stand; to his left, the samisen player sits on a single cushion, dwarfed by the chanter."

The Other Prints in the Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami Set

As further explained below, each stage set print was part of a set of five prints consisting of a black and white explanatory sheet and three portraits of puppet characters appearing in the play.

explanatory sheet
菅原伝授手習鑑 Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami
Source: The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 201-1543

The four print set for Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami
puppets from left to right (as positioned on the stage set print's tissue overlay):
Toneri Umeōmaru 舎人梅王丸, Toneri Sakuramaru 舎人桜丸, Toneri Matsummaru 舎人松王丸,

About the "Illustrated Collection of Famous Japanese Puppets of the Osaka Bunrakuza"

This collection of forty-eight color woodblock prints was designed by Hasegawa Sadanobu III (Konobu III) (1881-1963) and issued over the period March 1926 (Taishō 15) to August 1927 (Shōwa 2)1 by the publishing houses Bijutsusha 美術社 in Tokyo and on a subscription (members only) basis by Hangakai hanmoto 版画会板元 (板畫會板元) in Kyoto. The cost per print set was 3 yen. The editor and publisher for both the Bijutsusha and Hangakai hanmoto sets was Hayashi Eikichi 林榮吉, who was also the editor for Hasegawa's Collection of One Hundred Kumadori Makeups in Kabuki. (See Hasegawa Sadanobu III (Konobu III) (1881-1963) for prints from this collection.)

The Illustrated Collection of Famous Japanese Puppets of the Osaka Bunrakuza consists of twelve sets of prints each set depicting a specific play in the bunraku repertory, as listed in the below table. Each set contains a stage set for the specific play along with three prints of puppet characters appearing in the play and an explanatory sheet, for a total of forty-eight color woodblock prints and twelve monochrome explanatory sheets. Each of the stage set prints was originally issued with a tissue overlay showing the position of the three puppet characters on the stage. All of the plays pictured were performed at the Bunraku Theater (Bunraku-za) located within the Goryō Shrine compound in Osaka. The Goryō Bunraku-za burned down in November 1926 after what has been described as "an extremely difficult managerial era" and "lost interest" by the public in the late Taishō era.2 It is unknown what role, if any, the management of the Goryō Bunraku-za may have played in the formulation and issuance of this print series in their efforts to revitalize the theater.

For more complete information on this series see the article Illustrated Collection of Famous Japanese Puppets of the Osaka Bunrakuza

1 Dates are taken from the colophons on the envelopes containing the print sets in the Waseda University Archives
2 National Diet Library website page http://www.ndl.go.jp/scenery/e/column/kansai/goryo_bunrakuza.html which provides a history of the Goryō Bunrakuza.

 Play Name in Japanese Play Name in English
 Dan-no-ura kabuto gunki
 Chronicle of the Battle of Dan-no-ura
 Yoshitsune senbon zakura 
 Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees
 Ichi-no-tani futaba gunki
 Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani
 Kanadehon Chūshingura, go danme
 The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, Act 5
 Kanadehon Chūshingura, shichi danme
 The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, Act 7
 Igagoe dōchū sugoroku
 The Revenge at Igagoe
 Shinjū ten no amajima
 The Love Suicides at Amijima
 Shinpan Utazaimon
 The New Scandalous Ballad of Osome and Hisamatsu
 Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami 
 Sugawara and the Secrets of  Calligraphy
 Honchō nijūshikō
 Twenty-four Examples of Filial Piety
 Kamakura sandaiki
 Three Generations of Kamakura Shoguns
 Natsumatsuri Naniwa kagami 
 Summer festival at Naniwa (Osaka)

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description  Bunraku Theater Stage Set for Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami [Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy]
 Bunraku ningyō butaizu Sugawara denju tenarai kagami

Note: Also seen translated as Sugawara's Secrets of Calligraphy
 Series  Illustrated Collection of the Famous Japanese Puppets of the Osaka Bunrakuza
 Ōsaka Bunraku-za Ningyō Gashū: Nihon Meibutsu 
 Artist  Hasegawa Sadanobu III (Konobu III) (1881-1963)
 not signed 
 Seal  not sealed
 Publication Date  likely post-WWII, originally Shōwa 2 (February 1927)
 Publisher  Uchida Publishing
 Carver 佐藤重一 Satō Jūichi (if original woodblocks were used)
 Printer unknown
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  good - several spots of foxing and soiling; paper remnants verso upper corners; small piece missing from bottom right margin corner
 Genre  puppet theater stage set picture 文楽人形、舞台図 bunraku ningyō, butaizu
 H x W Paper 
 10 3/8 x 15 3/8 in. (26.4 x 39.1 cm) 
 H x W Image  9 15/16 x 14 3/16 in. (25.2 x 36)

 Collections This Print
 Waseda University Cultural Resource Database 201-1547(A and B); The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 作品番号:201-1496; Ritsumeikan University Art Research Center AcNo. arcBK06-0002_47National Diet Library Call Number 414.38; The Met Thomas J. Watson Library  240.3081 H27 Quarto; British Library System number: 018894603 
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