Imoseyama Onna Teikin (The Teachings for Women)

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Imoseyama Onna Teikin

(The Teachings for Women)

by Toyohara Kunichika, 1883

Ichikawa Danjūrō IX as Iruka and Omiwa and Ichikawa Sadanji as Fukashichi in the play Imoseyama Onna Teikin (The Teachings of Women)

IHL Cat. #597

About This Print

Kunichika depicts the famous scene Yoshinogawa from the third act of the drama Imoseyama Onna Teikin, performed at the Shitomi-za in October 1883.  In this scene the young samurai Koganosuke and the beautiful Hinadori decide that they would rather commit suicide than be separated. They exchange glances from their separate verandas on opposite sides of the Yoshino River as Hinadori's widowed mother Dazai Kōshitsu Sadaka and Koganosuke's father Daihanji Kyozumi hold sprigs of cherry blossoms, symbols of their intentions.

Kunichika's depiction of the Yoshino River replicates how the river appears in the kabuki theater through the stage device called takiguruma (waterfall wheels) in which the river painted in bright blue and white appears to be flowing out from the back of the stage toward the audience. (See photo below under the heading "Stage Sets for Kabuki and Bunraku.")

For another print related to this October performance of the play see IHL Cat. #1001.

Print of an 1899 Performance of Imoseyama Onna Teikin

The below print, picturing the same scene from the play, was created by Kunichika for an 1899 performance at the Kabuki-za theater. 

Imoseyama Onna Teikin, 1899
Staged at the Kabukiza 歌舞伎座 in 1899 with (from right to left)
Ichikawa Danjūrō IX as Daihanji Kyozumi; Bandō Kakitsu II as Koganosuke;
Onoe Kikugorō V as Dazai Kōshitsu Sadaka and Nakamura Fukusuke IV as Hinadori

Caught in the Act: Woodblock Kabuki Prints from the Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints
July 29 - September 3, 2017 in the Tanabe Gallery at the Portland Japanese Garden


Over-the-top stage performances have captivated audiences of kabuki since its inception in the early 1600s - but the role of immortalizing those theatrical moments has long been played by woodblock prints.  The print in this exhibition are from the private collection of Irwin Lavenberg.  They illustrate the vibrant style of ukiyo-e, pictures of the floating world, which brought colorful images of the stage and demimonde into the hands of an eager public with the rise of Japan's urban culture in the 17th century.

Unlike fine art, woodblock printmaking was a commercial enterprise.  Publishers, who were the businessmen behind the production process, rushed to sell print of the latest theatrical sensation to eager kabuki fans.  It was the publishers who commissioned artists to design the graphics, which workshops of carvers chiseled into planks of cherry wood, a different one for each color.

Woodblock prints changed as fashions and production evolved over the years.  The prints on view here date to the Meiji Period (1868-1912), after Edo had 
become Tokyo, when Japan was modernizing rapidly.  New technology introduced from the West meant the introduction of brilliant colors derived from synthetic dyes that smacked of evolving times.  Even so, traditions in kabuki print design remained: details masterfully rendered; cartouches giving the actor's name and role; the action unfolding across multiple sheets of paper.

Historical epics, famous romances, thrilling tales of the occult, and swashbuckling heroes kept the theaters booming and kept the woodblock print industry thriving.  The success of kabuki is inexorably linked to its portrayal in prints, one lending intensity to the other and delivering to viewers even now the dynamic jolt of stories powerfully told.
Courtesy of The Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints.
Many thanks to Irwin Lavenberg and print specialist, Lynn Katsumoto.

The Actors Pictured in This Collection's Print

from right to left:
Nakamura Shikan IV 市川団十郎 in the role of Daihanji no Kyozumi 大判司清澄
Ichikawa Sadanji 市川左団次 in the role of Koganosuke 久我之介
Ichikawa Danjūrō IX 市川団十郎 in the role of Dazai Kōshitsu Sadaka 貞高後室
Nakamura Fukusuke  IV 中村福介 in the role of Hinadori 雛どり 

For profiles of the actors please see the article The Kabuki Actor.

The Play "Imoseyama Onna Teikin"

Sources: Kabuki 21 website and as footnoted.

The play Imoseyama Onna Teikin, by Chikamatsu Hanji [1725-1783] and others, was originally written for the puppet theater (bunraku) and staged for the first time in January 1771 in Osaka at Takeda Shinmatsu's theater. It was quickly adapted to Kabuki and staged in Kyoto in March 1771 at the Kitagawa no Shibai and was first performed in Edo in 1778.

The power struggle between the Soga and the Fujiwara clans in the seventh century is the background to this play that deals with the virtue of self-sacrifice in women.  The story of the doomed love amid blossoming cherry trees and the wonderful display of puppets during the Girls’ Festival made the play appealing to servant girls.  It was usually staged during their annual holiday in the cherry blossom season.  During the performance the stage is divided in two, each with its own chorus and play.

The Yoshinogawa scene pictured in this print is a Romeo and Juliet-type story about the lovers Koganosuke and Hinadori, the handsome son of Daihanji no Kiyozumi and the beautiful daughter of the widow Sadaka, whose parents have been feuding over the boundary between their territories.

The stage set is both unique and gorgeous. It is the only kabuki play in which two hanamichi runways are used. Each one leads to the main stage, which has a river flowing down the center, flanked by cherry trees in full bloom. On either side of the river are the houses of the two clans. To the left is the home of the widow Sadaka and her daughter Hinadori, in which the walls are painted cream, the doors gold, and a vivid red Dolls' Festival display dominates the living room. To the right is the mansion of Daihanji and his son Koganosuke. Here the walls are a rich brown, and silver screens adorn the main room. Cherry blossoms hang from above the stage and are painted on the wings of the set, creating a frame of pink around the stage.

As the scene opens, the two young people are in their respective homes: Koganosuke is reading Buddhist scriptures alone in his father's house at the foot of Mount Seyama in Kii Province (Wakayama Prefecture), Hinadori is celebrating the Doll Festival with her attendants in her mother's house at the foot of Mount Imoyama in Yamato Province. They are pining for each other, but are separated by the Yoshino River painted in bright blue and white, which appears to be flowing out from the back of the stage toward the audience by the use of a stage device called takiguruma (waterfall wheels).

Daihanji and Sadaka appear on stage and greet each other courteously. The pair are suspected by Iruka of hiding Lady Uneme, the emperor's consort, whom Iruka wants to marry because she is the daughter of his political enemy Kamatari. Daihanji has been pondering having Koganosuke commit seppuku in order to avert Iruka's suspicion, as the young man helped Lady Uneme go into hiding. Sadaka, ordered by Iruka to give him her daughter Hinadori to be his mistress, has considered killing Hinadori and presenting her head to Iruka.

When Sadaka hears that Hinadori would indeed prefer to die rather than go to Iruka, she beheads her daughter with a single stroke and sends the severed head, in a miniature palanquin, across the river to be united with Koganosuke, who has just stabbed himself. Seeing his dying son cradle Hinadori's head, Daihanji administers him the final, decapitating blow.

1 Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to the World of Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays, illustrated by Woodblock Prints, Arendie Herwig and Henk J. Herwig, Hotei Publishing, 2004, p.231.

Stage Sets for Kabuki and Bunraku

Imoseyama Onna Teikin Yoshinogawa
Heisei 3 (1992) April, Kabukiza Theater
©Nihonhaiyukyokai/Aoki Shinji

The Teachings for Women Imoyama and Seyama Mansions, May 1977
Production 1977 May14, Kokuritsu shōgekijō, Bunraku, Imoseyama onna teikin
Piece     Imoseyama onna teikin
 Copyright 1998-2008, Global Performing Arts Consortium. All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of The Barbara Curtis Adachi Bunraku Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian library, Columbia University.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #597
 Title (Description) Imoseyama Onna Teikin (variously translated as Imoseyama, Domestic Instructions for Women, An Example of Womanly Virtue; A girl sacrificed at Imoseyama; Admonitions to Women on Their Relationships with Men; The Teachings for Women Imoyama and Seyama Mansions)
妹背山婦女庭訓 いもせやまおんなていきん
 Artist  Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900)
 Signature Toyohara Kunichika hitsu
 Seal  Toshidama seal beneath artist's signature
 Publication Date September 29, 1883 明治十六年九月二十九日
宮澤 政太郎 Miyazawa Masatarō [Marks: seal not shown; pub. ref. 341]
 Carver no carver seal
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good- unbacked; three sheets joined, light wrinkling
 Genre ukiyo-e; yakusha-e
 Format vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper
 14 x 27 3/4 in. (35.6 x 70.5 cm)
 Collections This Print
 Tokyo Metropolitan Library M348-044-08(01), (02), (03); The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 100-2907 100-2906 100-2905