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Kaidan Tsuki no Kasamori (The Ghost Story of Kasamori in the Moonlight)


 Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Kaidan Tsuki no Kasamori

(The Ghost Story of Kasamori in the Moonlight)

by Utagawa Kunimasa IV, 1897

October Kyōgen at the Meiji-za, Akashi's Patronage
IHL Cat. #591

About This Print

A triptych depicting a scene from the short play Kaidan Tsuki no Kasamori by the playwright Kawatake Mokuami (河竹黙阿弥 1816-1893.)  This play was performed on June 01, 1897 as part of the Kabuki program Yumiharizuki Genke no Kaburaya, which also included the plays Kagekiyo and Gion Sairei Shinkôki.

Kaidan Tsuki no Kasamori is a ghost story involving the historical character Kasamori Osen, a famous 18th century Edo beauty immortalized in print, illustrated books and plays.  The role of Kasamori (inset in left panel) is played by Nakamura Fukusuke IV (1865-1940) who also plays the role of of Okichi, maidservant of Imamura, in the center panel.  The actor Ichikawa Danzô VII plays the villain Shimobe Ichisuke in the right panel.

The artist, Kunimasa IV (Baidō Hōsai), was well familiar with ghosts, as Newland, in her article in Andon 89, tells us that the artist spoke of seeing apparitions.  She goes on to say, "ghosts and monsters were an integral part Edo popular culture and indeed known for centuries in Japan.  They were not an uncommon subject in popular oral history and literature, the theatre, in woodblock prints, and later in newspaper reports."1

1 "In the Shadow of Another: Introducing the 'Meiji no Edokko' Baidō Hōsai," Amy Reigle Newland, Andon 89. (December 2010),
p. 89.

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

For background on the actors Nakamura Fukusuke IV and Ichikawa Danzô VII see their respective entries in the article The Kabuki Actor on this site.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #591
 Title (Description) The Ghost Story of Kasamori under the Moonlight
 (Kaidan Tsuki no Kasamori 怪談月笠森)
 Artist  Utagawa Kunimasa IV (1848-1920)
 Signature Hōsai hitsu
 Seal  rectangular Baidō seal
 Publication Date June 29, 1897 (Meiji 30)
 Fukuda Kumajirō 福田熊次郎; Address Nihobahsi-ku Hasegawachō 19-banchi [Marks: 30-046]
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good- full-size; minor soiling; mounting remnants top corners verso of each sheet
 Genre ukiyo-e; yakusha-e
 Format vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper
 14 5/8 x 9 7/8 in. (37.1 x 25.1 cm) each sheet
 Collections This Print
 Tsubouchi Memorial Museum of Waseda University 100-8946, 100-8945, 100-8944; 403-0465, 403-0466, 403-0467