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Princess Kinshojo in the play Kokusenya Kassen

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Princess Kinshojo in the play Kokusenya Kassen

by Nishiyama Suisho, 1922-26

IHL Cat. #147

About This Print

One of 18 prints published from 1922 to 1926 as part of the celebration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the death of Chikamatsu Manzaemon (1623-1724), perhaps the greatest dramatist in the history of the Japanese theater. Each design illustrates a scene or character from one of Chikamatsu’s famous works.  For more details on this series go to Supplements of the Complete Works of Chikamatsu Manzaemon.

Interestingly, in 1921, prior to this print being issued, the artist created the following hanging scroll depicting the same scene.
Kinshojo, 1921
color on silk・hanging scroll
The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto

Detail of use of metallic ink in hairpiece and robe

The Story of Kokusenya Kassen

In 1705, for reasons unknown, Chikamatsu turned his energies exclusively to writing puppet plays. He moved to Osaka, the center of the joruri world, and became staff playwright at the Takemotoza. While Shakespeare probably never considered writing for puppets, it is notable that, like the bard, Chikamatsu did often write historical plays. Kokusenya Kassen (The Battles of Co Xin Ga), for example, is loosely based on the adventures of a Chinese-Japanese who attempted to restore China's Ming Dynasty.

Source: Website of Osaka Prints http://www.osakaprints.com/content/artists/info_pp/hironobu_info/hironobu_04a.htm (note link is no longer accurate)
Kokusenya kassen (Battles of Kokusenya), written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724), has long been considered a masterpiece of the puppet theater (jôruri or bunraku). First staged in 1715, it remains unsurpassed as the most successful play in the history of jôruri. A kabuki version was first staged in 1716.
The hero Watônai Sankan, a fisherman by trade, was also the son of Ikkan, a former Ming minister who had been exiled to Japan. Trained in military strategy, Watônai travels with Ikkan to China to aid a princess named Sendan, younger sister of the Chinese emperor murdered by the Tartars. Their intention is to fulfill his father's promise to restore the Ming dynasty and place Sendan on the throne. Once there, they find Ikkan’s daughter and Watônai's half-sister, Kinshôjô, married to a general named Kanki, of Ming ancestry but allied with the Tartars. Kinshôjô, loyal to her father and Watônai, agrees to ask Kanki to join Watônai, but she has them wait outside the Lion Castle for a sign of her husband's intentions: a powder — white for "yes" and red for "no" — to be tossed into cascading water flowing down to the castle moat. Kanki is sympathetic to her request but cannot take advice from a woman on military matters, as it would bring shame upon himself and his descendants. He is also bound by a promise he has made to the Tartars to kill Watônai. Always the warrior, Kanki considers murdering his wife to quell any rumors of his being a coward, but is dissuaded by Kinshôjô's stepmother (Watônai's Japanese mother, who was allowed to enter the castle to plead their cause).

In the most celebrated scene — called beni nagashi shishigajô ("the red signal inside the castle") — Kinshôjô stabs herself and, in place of the red powder, lets her blood flow into the conduit. Her death will free Kanki to fight the Tartars. Upon seeing the "red signal," Watônai bursts into the Lion Castle to confront Kanki, whereupon the two become allies and Watônai is given the name Kokusenya, Lord of Enpei.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog  #147
 Title or Description  Princess Kinshojo in the play Kokusenya Kassen (note: the MFA, Boston lists the title of this work as The Sister of Watônai Committing Suicide, a specific scene in the play, as described below.)
 Series  Supplements of the Complete Works of Chikamatsu Manzaemon
 Nishiyama Suisho (1879-1958)
 Seal  Suisho
 Publication Date  between 1922-1926
 Edition  likely first edition, but the number of editions issued is unknown
 Carver  Yamagishi Kazue 1893-1996
 Printer  Nishimura Kumakichi
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  excellent - some apparent oxidation of pigment on hands and face
 Miscellaneous  all prints from this series printed on a light tan-colored paper
 Genre  shin hanga (new prints)
 Format  dai-oban
 H x W Paper  18 x 11 1/4 in. (45.7 x 28.6 cm)
 H x W Image  17 x 10 5/8 in. (43.2 x 27 cm) measurement includes gray border
 Collections This Print  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 51.1754; The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 201-0377 and 201-0378
 Reference Literature