Ichikawa Yonezō, Ichikawa Sadanji II, Ichikawa Gonjūrō and Ichikawa Enjō in Orihime no Shusu Enishi no Iroito

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Ichikawa Yonezō, Ichikawa Sadanji II,

Ichikawa Gonjūrō and Ichikawa Enjō

in Orihime no Shusu Enishi no Iroito

(Ties of Colored Threads in the Weaving Princess's Satin)      

by Toyohara Kunichika, 1894

IHL Cat. #751

About This Print

The actors, from right to left, Ichikawa Yonezō (市川米蔵) as court lady Satsuki (女官皐月), Ichikawa Sadanji II (市川左団次) as court lady Shirotaki  (官女白瀧), Ichikawa Gonjūrō (市川権十郎) as Eiji Yamada Oribe (山田衛士織部) and Ichikawa Enjō (市川莚女) as court lady Minase (官女水無瀬) in Orihime no Shusu Enishi no Iroito performed at the Meiji-za in the second week of May 1894.

This play was created to publicize a new "domestically-produced black satin product, 'Orihime Shusu', to replace the imported satin 'Nanking-Shusu'" then in vogue."1 The stage curtain was provided by Inabata Shoten who, along with Nippon Orimono (Japan Textile Company), commercialized the new product.

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.

1 website of Inabata & Co http://www.inabata.co.jp/english/amusebouche/ikhistory/history01.html

The Actors Pictured

For background on the actors Ichikawa Yonezō (dates unknown), Ichikawa Sadanji I (1842-1904),  Ichikawa Gonjūrō (1848-1904) and Ichikawa Enjō (1868-1944) see their respective entries in the article The Kabuki Actor on this site.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #751
 Title (Description) Orihime no Shusu Enishi no Iroito 織姫繻子縁色糸
 Ties of Colored Threads in the Weaving Princess's Satin
 Artist  Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900)
 Signature Toyohara Kunichika hitsu with toshidama seal
 Seal  toshidama seal
 Publication Date May 8, 1894 (Meiji 27)
Akiyama Buemon 秋山 武右衛門 [Marks: seal not shown; pub. ref. 005]
 Carver unknown
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good- trimmed to image on side and bottom margins, soiling
 Genre ukiyo-e; yakusha-e
 Format vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper
 13 3/4 x 9 1/4 in. (34.9 x 23.5 cm) each sheet
 Collections This Print
 The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 101-7380, 101-7381, 101-7382