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Amakawaya Gihei from the series Legends of the Loyal Retainers

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Amakawaya Gihei from the series

Legends of the Loyal Retainers

by Utagawa Kunisada II, 1866

IHL Cat. #629

About This Print

This print pictures the virtuous merchant Amakawaya Gihei from the play Kanadehon Chūshingura (TheTreasury of Loyal Retainers, a.k.a. The Forty-Seven Ronin), based on the Akō Incident (1701-1703) in which forty-seven retainers of Lord Asano (the character Enya Hangan in the play) take revenge against the shogun's court official Kira Yoshinaka (the character Ko no Moronao in the play), whose actions caused the death of their lord.  The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston identifies the actor in the role of Gihei as Kawarazaki Gonjūrō I, although the actor's name does not appear on the print.

The multi-colored cartouche gives the name of the series as Legends of the Loyal Retainers and the name of the character portrayed is given to the immediate left of this cartouche, in this case Amakawaya Gihei  天川屋 儀平.  The background script may provide an account of Yuranosuke's role in the play or actual lines spoken by the character.

To read more about the representations of Chūshingura in woodblock prints see the article on this site Chūshingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) in Woodblock Prints.

Three Related Series

Note: Please reference the images under "Three Related Series" on the page for the print Ōboshi Yuranosuke (IHL Cat. #630) for the below discussion.

I have located twelve similar appearing prints that at first glance appear to be part of the same series.  However, the series titles which appear in the prints' cartouches are not all the same.  Nine of the prints bear the series title Legends of the Loyal Retainers [Gishi eimei den no uchi 義士英名伝(傳)之内], one print bears the series title Legends Related to the Loyal Retainers (Gishi gaiden no uchi 義士外伝之内) and two prints bear the series title Stories of Virtuous Women (Teijo eimeiden no uchi 貞女英名伝之内). The prints were not all published in the same year, with two published in 1863 and the remainder published in 1866.   At least two of the prints appear to form a diptych and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has grouped three of the prints as a triptych. Scene names (shown beneath the figure portrayed) from the play Kanadehon Chūshingura are given on several of the prints and it is likely that the others also correspond to particular scenes in the play.

The Actual Events: The Akō Incident (1701-03)

The so-called Akō Incident began on April 21, 1701, when the lord of Akō, Asano Naganori, drew his sword in a corridor of Edo Castle and slashed the senior bakufu protocol official, Kira Yoshinaka, in retaliation for a perceived slight.  While Kira suffered only a light wound, Asano was arrested and ordered to commit seppuku later the same day, largely for drawing his sword in the Castle. His estate was confiscated and dissolved leaving his retainers without jobs, or as ronin.  Forty-seven of these ronin signed an oath to avenge their lord by killing Kira and twenty-one months later attacked his Edo mansion, took his head, and marched across the city to the temple of Sengakuji, where they placed it before the grave of their master and surrendered. After almost two months of debate, the bakufu ordered the seppuku of the ronin and on March 20, 1703 they committed ritual suicide. Their ashes were interred at Sengakuji.

The Merchant Amakawaya Gihei his real-life counterpart Amanoya Rihei

The theatrical adaptation of the Akō Incident, Kanadehon Chūshingura or simply Chūshingura, combined historical characters from the Akō Incident, assigning them thinly disguised fictitious names, along with unrelated historical characters and fictional characters, mostly added to spice up the play with erotica.  The character Amakawaya Gihei first appears in Act X of Kanadehon Chūshingura, an act that is peripheral to the main story line.  Gihei is a merchant who aspires to act like a samurai and in Act X he utters the famous line of defiance “Gihei of Amakawaya is a true man!” (Amakawayano Gihei wa otoko de gozaru zo).  Amakawaya Gihei's real-life counterpart was Amanoya Rihei, a contractor to Lord Asano.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #629
 Title/Description Amakawaya Gihei  天川屋 儀平
 Series Legends of the Loyal Retainers (Gishi eimei den no uchi 義士英名伝(傳)之内)
 Utagawa Kunisada II (1823-1880)
 Baichōrō Kunisada ga 梅蝶楼国貞画
 Seal None
 Publication Date
inspection and date seal 寅七改 1866 (Keiō 2), 7th month
Sagamiya Tōkichi 相模屋 藤吉, seal name 'Shitaya Aito' 下谷 相ト  [Marks: pub. ref. 435; seal 24-009]
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good - numerous worm holes repaired from back
 Genre ukiyo-e; yakusha-e
 Format Vertical Oban
 H x W Paper 14 3/8 x 9 5/8 in. (36.5 x 24.4 cm)
 Collections This Print Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 2009.5125a-c (center panel of triptych)

 Reference Literature