ANDO HIROSHIGE
BASIL STEWART: A GUIDE TO JAPANESE PRINTS


CHAPTER XXX

CHUSHINGURA ILLUSTRATIONS BY KUNISADA AND PUPILS

KUNISADA, like his master Toyokuni, appears to have been a fairly prolific designer of illustrations to the Chushingura, those of his early and middle period, that is previous to 1844, being the best.

These are generally signed Kochoro Kunisada. Over this signature he has designed a fine set of eleven triptychs, the only complete set in this form known to the writer, though single triptychs from a similar set by Kuniyoshi have been noted. Various artists have designed triptychs showing all the eleven acts on the one sheet (that is three sheets joined to form one complete whole), but this set by Kunisada and another by Kuniyoshi are the only series known giving a triptych to each act.

As this set is very rare, and may not be known to the reader, we will briefly describe each act.[1]

Title Kanadehon Chushingura (The Loyal League; a copy for Imitation); signed Kochoro Kunisada; c. 1835.

Act I. The Hachirnan Temple at Kamakura (Tsuruga-oka). Lady Kawoyo being summoned before the council of nobles to identify Yoshisada's helmet.

Act II. In the centre love-scene between Konami and Rikiya, and her mother Tonase listening on the left; on the right Honzo and Wakasa.

Act III. Yenya's attack on Moronao; and outside Kampei scattering Bannai's men, while Okaru trips one of them up with her scarf.

Act IV. In the centre the arrival of the two commissioners with sentence of death on Yenya; Yuranosuke showing his retainers the sword of death, while Yakushiji hurls imprecations at them to take themselves off from the palace. Above, Lady Kawoyo with Goyemon and other retainers.

Act V. Scene in the hill country near Yamazaki during a rain-storm. In the centre Sadakuro pursuing Yoichibei, and on the right the meeting of Kampei and Yagoro.

Act VI. Scene at Yoichibei's cottage, Yamazaki. In the centre the arrival of Yagoro and Goyemon; on the right Kampei being accused by Okaru's mother of the murder of Yoichibei, and on the left Okaru being taken away in the kago.

Act VII. The tea-house Ichiriki. In the centre Okaru and Yuranosuke; on the right the letter-reading scene, and on the left Heiyemon dragging out Kudayu from under the engawa.

Act VIII. The Bridal Journey. The best triptych of the series; a very fine landscape scene with Fuji in the distance.

Act IX. Yuranosuke's house at Yamashima. In the centre Honzo arrives just in time to prevent Tonase taking her daughter's life; on the right (above) Yuranosuke and Rikiya examining Honzo's plan of Moronao's castle; and on the left the snow which Yuranosuke had amused himself with in heaping up, being rolled into the inner court (vide last chapter).

Act X. The test of Gihei by the patrol of ronin; and on the right, behind, interview between Gihei and his wife.

Act XI. Snow scene under moonlight. The ronin crossing the bridge on their way to the attack on Moronao.

 

At Plate 47 we illustrate four scenes from another early Chushingura series by Kunisada of about the same date as the above, of the ordinary full-size, oblong shape. This series is also uncommon and is the best one in this form by Kunisada that has come under notice. The colour-scheme is mainly red, yellow, blue, and green. The drawing of the figures is bold, and the colouring strong without being garish. Each scene has a small black and white indented border, after the pattern adopted by the ronin on their dress as a distinguishing mark, typifying day and night, a token of their unceasing vigilance upon their enemy.

Title: Kanadehon Chushingura; signed Kochoro Kunisada; publisher's sign of Man-kichi.

Act I. Scene at the foot of the steps leading to the shrine of the Hachi- man Temple, looking out over the Bay of Yedo. Yenya (right) intervening in the quarrel between Wakasa (centre) and Moronao (left), behind whom stands Lady Kawoyo in an attitude of some alarm.

At the top of the steps appears Tadayoshi with his escort leaving the temple. (See Plate 47.)

Act II. On the right Honzo cutting off a pine branch in front of Wakasa who stands on the veranda behind; on the left, on a balcony built out over the water, Konami receiving Rikiya.

Act III. Above, Yenya's attack on Moronao who reels and falls under the blow, while another daimyo rushes up and pushes Yenya back; below, Kampei, who has been making love to Okaru, vainly endeavouring to gain admittance to the castle in order to go to his lord's assistance.

Act IV. This illustrates the opening scene of the fourth book in the drama, and is an unusual treatment.

In the centre is seated Rikiya, who is in attendance on Lady Kawoyo, seated behind with her maids-of-honour, and on his left squats Goyemon and on his right Kudayu. They are engaged upon discussing the events which led up to their lord's confinement in his castle at Yedo, and the merits or demerits of his attack on Moronao. This discussion is abruptly terminated by the arrival of the two commissioners who are seen approaching along the veranda through an open shutter behind.

Act V. Sadakuro, who holds a large umbrella over himself, snatches at Yoichibei's purse, while the latter sprawls on the ground in his effort to save his money. Behind, further along the road, the meeting of Kampei and Yagoro.

Act VI. Kampei being reviled by Goyemon and Yagoro as the murderer of Yoichibei, whose wife joins in the accusation. Outside, Okaru being carried away to Kyoto in a kago followed by her new master.

Act VII. The tea-house Ichiriki, Kyoto. Yuranosuke discovered by Yazama Jiutaro, Senzaki Yagoro, and Takemori Kitahachi, playing blind- man's-buff with the tea-house girls, and disgusted with their chief's behaviour, are about to set on him with their swords, when Heiyemon implores them to restrain themselves for a while. Seeing the justice of his explanation of their chief's apparent careless behaviour, they yield to Heiyemon's entreaties and withdraw.

Behind, in a forecourt, Bannai Sagisaka discovering the large stone left in the kago by Kudayu, much to his surprise, while Okaru watches him from the balcony above.

Act VIII. The Bridal Journey. A somewhat unusual treatment of this scene. View of the seashore at Tago looking towards the Miho-no- Matsubara Peninsula, and a great white Fuji streaked with green rising up into a deep blue sky, coloured red on the horizon.

Konami and Tonase stopping at a wayside refreshment place; Konami points out the view to her mother still seated in the kago which the porters have just put down, one of them stirring a pot over a fire, while a third wipes himself with a towel.

On a bench behind, under a straw awning, sits their travelling companion to whom the tea-house proprietress beings a cup of sake. (See Plate 47.)

Act IX. The most beautifully coloured plate of the set. The dresses of Tonase and O-ishi are delicate shades of pink and blue, in contrast to the black screen behind and the snow around them.

Honzo, holding in his hand his bamboo flute and basket hat, arrives at the gate just as O-ishi interrupts Tonase from taking Konami's life, by demanding Honzo's head as a bridal gift, ere she will consent to the marriage of Rikiya with Konami.

The large characters on each division of the screen, at the top, from right to left, form part of the title of the series (Kanade) hon Chus-(shin hidden by Tonase's head)-gura; while on the middle screen, which O-ishi is opening, is written Twelve Scenes, Kochoro Utagawa Kunisada gwa. (See Plate 47.)

Act X. Gihei standing on the chest defying the patrol of ronin to make him reveal the whereabouts of the arms and armour he is making for them, while one of them threatens to decapitate his son.

Outside, by the edge of the wharf, one of the ronin cuts off O-Sono's hair.

Act XI. First Episode. Moronao being dragged forth from his hiding- place, and Rikiya directing operations. In the background other ronin fighting Moronao's retainers and putting them to flight.

Act XI. Second Episode. Snow scene at Sengakuji Temple.

The ronin offering incense before Yenya's tomb, in front of which is placed Moronao's head on a white-wood stand, covered with a purple cloth.

Each comes forward as Yuranosuke reads out their names in turn from the roll, Yazama Jiutaro, in honour of having been the one to discover Moronao in his hiding-place when they had almost given up hope of finding him, being first, followed by Heiyemon on behalf of Kampei, who lays the fatal purse upon the censer and offers incense.

Behind Yuranosuke is seated his son Rikiya, and the ronin Kanamaru, seventy-eight years of age, the oldest of the forty-seven. (See Plate 47.)

 

In our last chapter we referred to a Chushingura series by Toyokuni as an example of treatment in the upright form of illustration; we will now describe and illustrate a similar set by Kunisada, showing one or two episodes in an illustration.

The title of the series is Kanadehon Chushingura, as in the above oblong set; signed Kochoro Kunisada; publisher Yezaki-ya. Both Kunisada's signature and the publisher's name are written on labels, and each print is stamped with the kiwame (perfect) seal. Date about 1835.

The chief colours used are blue, green, and a dull brick-red (beni-gara), which gives a more subdued tone to the composition than in the oblong set, in which yellow (shio) is much employed.

Act I. Scene on the steps leading up to the shrine of the Hachiman Temple. Yenya and Lady Kawoyo trying to pacify Wakasa in his quarrel with Moronao who stands on one of the steps, scowling at him. On a white-wood stand Yenya carries Yoshisada's helmet to deposit it in the treasury of the shrine, the first illustration of this act in which we have noticed it thus introduced into the composition.

At the top of the steps Tadayoshi appears, followed by a retinue of nobles. (See Plate 48.)

Act II. Wakasa, squatting by the veranda, watches Honzo who has just cut off the pine branch, and is wiping the blade of his sword. Beside Wakasa is a box full of picture rolls, presumably in allusion to those which Honzo presents in the early morning of the following day to Moronao to buy off his hostility against Wakasa, as a gift from him and his household.

Below, Konami on bended knee offering refreshment to Rikiya, while her mother watches her from behind a screen.

Act III. Yenya's attack on Moronao, and Kajikawa Yosobei, a retainer to the Shogun, Ashikaga, whose role in the drama is taken by Honzo, though the latter really represents Ogiwara the chief councillor to Wakasa, holding him back.

Below, Kampei putting Bannai and his men to rout outside the entrance to the castle, and Okaru standing by him.

Act IV. Yenya, prepared for seppuku, asks Rikiya if Yuranosuke has yet arrived, as he has much to say to him before the end comes. (See Chapter XXVI, page 247.)

On the right are the two commissioners Ishido and Yakushiji, and on the left, two other witnesses.

Below, outside the gate, Yuranosuke shows the sword of death to Yenya's retainers. (See Plate 48.)

(This plate is interesting because it indicates the procedure to be observed at the ceremony of seppuku (hara-kiri) of a person of rank.

The condemned man is dressed in white, short-sleeved garments; he has thrown off the kamishimo, or outer garment, on which in ordinary wear would appear his crest, like that worn by Yuranosuke in the illustration below, but which on this occasion is bare of device.

He is seated on a white cotton quilt, at each corner of which is a vase containing a sprig of green shikimi.

Before him is the dirk placed on a white cloth resting on a white-wood stand.

In the instance of Yenya he was allowed to disembowel himself; but usually in the case of a person of lower rank his second strikes off his head as he leans forward to take the dirk.

It will be noticed that only the two chief commissioners wear both long and short swords; the other witnesses carry the dirk only, it being contrary to etiquette to wear the sword in a house. In the drama, Yenya is confined in his own castle at Yedo pending the delivery of sentence against him, and commits seppuku in its precincts. Actually, Asano Takumi-no-Kami (the original of Yenya) was given in charge of a daimyo called Tamura, and the ceremony of seppuku carried out in the garden of the latter's palace at Shirokane, in Yedo.)

Act V. Rain-scene at nightfall. Above, the meeting of Kampei and Yagoro; below, Sadakuro's murder of Yoichibei.

Act VI. Above, scene at Yoichibei's cottage: Kampei having made his peace with Yagoro and Goyemon, now that the truth of his father-in- law's death had been discovered, is asked by the latter to sign the roll of the forty-seven ronin, before death overtakes him. On the floor lies the purse of money, the cause of all the trouble.

Below, Okaru being borne away in a kago to Kyoto, followed by Ichi- moniya, who turns to speak to one of the hunters who had brought Yoichibei's dead body to his cottage.

Act VII. The Ichiriki tea-house, Kyoto. Yuranosuke discovered by Jiutaro, Yagoro, Kitahachi, and Heiyemon playing blindman's-buff with the tea-house girls; above, in top left-hand comer, another room in the tea-house, in which he is discovered by Jiutaro and Yagoro supping with Kudayu, who is on the point of offering him a piece of fish, which Yuranosuke takes with the utmost unconcern. From a balcony above Okaru looks on at the proceedings. (See Plate 48.)

(As Yuranosuke is on the point of eating the fish, Kudayu reminds him that it is the anniversary of the death of Yenya, but the former takes no notice of this hint and eats it all the same, thus showing Kudayu that he apparently troubled himself little about his dead lord, adding, As to fasting, I cannot see that we are in the least bound to mortify ourselves for his sake [vide Chapter XXV respecting this allusion].)

Act VIII. The Bridal Journey. A woman stoops to tie Konami's sandal, while her mother stands close by admiring the view.

Approaching along the road over the top of a slight hill which overlooks the sea, is the head of a daimyo's procession; in the background, from a deep blue sea, rises a great Fuji, its slopes coloured green, its summit white with snow, the whole sky a beautiful rose-pink. A fine plate.

Act IX. Below, O-ishi's attack on Honzo, and behind, Rikiya, attracted by the noise of the scuffle, opens a shutter to see what is happening.

Above, O-ishi, on bended knee, hands Honzo's koniuso hat to Yuranosuke, who carries his flute, while a servant places his sandals ready for him on the step; behind O-ishi is seated Konami. A variant to the usual treatment of this episode. (See Plate 48.)

Act X. Above, Gihei seated on the chest defying the party of ronin to dislodge him.

Below, interview between Gihei and his father-in-law, Ryochiku, a very common and uncouth fellow, squatting on the floor with his hands clasped across his knees and smoking a pipe, while Gihei is occupied in writing his letter of divorce, O-Sono standing outside a half-open screen listening to the interview.

Through an open screen at the back Igo, Gihei's servant-lad, carrying the latter's son on his back, peers in, grinning at the uncouth Ryochiku.

Act XI. Snow-scene at night under a large full moon. Moronao, dragged out of his hiding-place, lies sprawling in the snow before his captors, and Yuranosuke comes up to identify his enemy.

In the upper part of the picture, which is separated from the lower by a black wooden fence, two of Moronao's retainers who have sought refuge up a tree are being attacked, while others are pursued by the ronin across the snow-covered roofs.

At Plate 49, Illustrations 1 and 2, are two scenes from a set of Chushingura incidents by Kuniyoshi, showing Acts X and XI; the attack on Gihei, and the death of Moronao, with Yuranosuke showing him the fatal dirk.

The title, Kanadehon Chushingura, followed by the number of the act and a sub-title, is in the bottom corner; signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi; no decorative border.

Illustration 3 is an example from another – and later – set, showing the ninth act; Rikiya's attack on Honzo. Prevailing colours of green and rose-pink, with touches of mauve, blue, and black; grey sky in background; green and white indented border. Title Kanatehon Chushingura in variously-tinted square panel in top right-hand corner; on long upright red panel below aratame seal at top, followed by Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi, and name and address of publisher, Sanoki; seal-dated Tiger II = 11th month, 1854.

Illustration 4 is Act X from a rare set (title Kanadehon Chushingura) by Kikumaro over the signature of Kitagawa Tsukimaro; date about 1800; publisher Yamaguchi-ya (To-bei); medium size, oblong; complete in eleven scenes.

Kuniyoshi also designed two series (full-size, upright), consisting of portraits of all the forty-seven ronin, with their biographies, one set, entitled Seichu Gishiden, Biographies of the Ronin, being a single figure of each ronin. Belonging to this set, but with the title slightly altered to Seichu Gishi hottan, Beginning of the Loyal Ronin, are four portraits of Yenya, Moronao, Wakasa and Honzo, with their biographies.

The other series shows each ronin engaged in combat with an enemy, and may be recognized from the previous set by having the title Chushin Gishi Komyo Kurabe, A comparison of the Persons in the Loyal League, written on a tsuba, or sword-guard. Each plate is numbered.

 

As a final example of Chushingura illustrations we now take a very good set, full size, oblong, by Utagawa SADAHIDE (worked about 1840), perhaps the leading pupil of Kunisada.

In this series the figures are relatively small, landscape enters largely into the composition, while their treatment is, in many instances, very unusual and highly original.

The predominating colours are blue, green, brick-red (beni-gara), and, in some plates, a yellow tint known as shio, made from gamboge, which fades very readily if exposed to much light.

Title: Kanadehon Chushingura; each plate signed Sadahide; publisher Fukusendo of Yedo; rare.

There is no decorative border to this set.

Act I. View of the large court of the Hachiman Temple looking out to sea; on the left a corner of the principal gateway through which Naho- yoshi is passing on his way out after the ceremony, followed by his umbrella bearer. Behind him, along the stone-flagged path, comes Moronao who turns his head and scowls at Yenya and Wakasa following with Ishido and other nobles in the procession, some descending the steps from the shrine above on their way out. On the right, by an opening in the screen which surrounds the whole of the courtyard, stands Lady Kawoyo, watching the procession going out, and evidently uneasy at the remarks which Moronao throws behind him at her husband.

At the foot of the temple steps grows a giant pine tree.

A fine plate and an original rendering of this act, which does not follow the stereotyped treatment usually found.

Act II. A fine landscape view. The front of Wakasa's house overlooking a large lake. On the left Rikiya seated in a room waiting to deliver his message for Wakasa to Konami, who is on the veranda outside and carries a sake cup on a small stand, but is too shy to give it him, while a woman of the household endeavours to coax her over her shyness, Tonase meanwhile watching her daughter round the corner of the engawa.

In another part of the building Wakasa sits in a room by the veranda watching Honzo as he cuts off the branch of a dwarf pine tree growing close to the water's edge.

The scene of the reception of Rikiya by Konami shows ingenuity in introducing the woman to take the part usually played by Tonase in coaxing her daughter to act the part of hostess.

Act III. Extensive view of the moat and grounds of Kamakura Castle, from outside the entrance by a green mound which slopes down to the water.

The encounter between Bannai Sagisaka and Kampei, behind whom stands Okaru.

Act IV. Scene at nightfall in the large courtyard in front of the main entrance to Ogigayatsu Castle which is now closed and all the windows shuttered. Rikiya and the other retainers of Yenya making obeisance to their lord's sword of death, which Yuranosuke shows to them.

(An impressive scene; the idea of death and impending disaster upon the family and clan of Asano is well indicated in the closed and deserted castle under the deepening shadows of night, while in the foreground the forty-seven solemnly pledge themselves to avenge their lord's untimely end.)

Act V. The masterpiece of the set, which can challenge comparison with any representation yet noted of this scene, and which in the writer's opinion is quite the equal of, if not superior to, Hiroshige's illustration of this act. (See Plate 50.)

Hiroshige's mountainous landscape and the rain is finely indicated, but the composition is spoilt, as is frequently the case with him, by his crude drawing of the two figures of Sadakuro and Yoichibei.

Sadakuro is snatching at the purse of the old man, who has fallen on the ground, and on the right, under a steep hill, the meeting of Kampei and Yagoro. Under the shelter of a pine tree, in the foreground, is a wayside stone figure of the god Jizo, the patron saint of travellers. He is represented holding in one hand the ringed staff and in the other the mystic jewel, his two attributes. He is generally shown bare-headed and with a shaven pate, though he is sometimes given, as here, a hat made from a lotus leaf.

Jizo is also the patron saint and protector of children, which accounts for the offerings of toys which lie on the ground by his statue. In this capacity he spends his time under the earth in the Sai-no-kawara, or Dry Bed of the River of Souls, where all children go after death.

Across the rice-fields, under the shadow of three giant pines, stands a small shrine with a torii in front of it.

In the background a range of yellow mountains.

Act VI. Yoichibei's cottage behind a rough bamboo fence by the edge of a stream which irrigates the fields; clumps of trees and bamboo growing round it. An almost purely landscape scene.

Kampei, as he approaches the cottage, stops the kago in which Okaru is being carried off, and demands explanations as to where his wife is going.

Act VII. (This act has not, unfortunately, come under observation, but is presumably the tea-house scene.)

Act VIII. The Bridal Journey scene. View at the mouth of the Okitsu River looking across the Miho Peninsula to the great mass of Fuji, its upper slopes white with snow, its base wreathed in mist; the sky pink on the horizon changing to gold above.

Tonase admiring the mountain which another traveller points out to her, while Konami has just got out of her norimono (not a kago as generally shown), and a woman fastens her sandal. On the other side Honzo, in disguise, sits on a bench smoking a pipe.

Sadahide again shows his originality here by introducing Honzo into the scene, as, unknown to his wife and daughter, he follows them on their journey to Yamashima.

Act IX. Snow scene; another masterpiece; very good colouring. (See Plate 50.)

Honzo arrives at Yuranosuke's house just in time to prevent Tonase taking her daughter's life; from behind a screen O-ishi, holding the wood stand in her hand, watches them.

Act X. Loading the ronins' arms on to the ship at the Port of Sakai, outside Gihei's warehouse. The most original treatment of this act that has come under notice. (See Plate 50.)

At the water's edge Yuranosuke takes his leave of Gihei and O-Sono, while above, on the quay, is Gihei's son in charge of a servant.

Act XI. Another excellent snow scene. Under the light of a full moon in a deep blue sky, the ronin make their attack, and drive their enemy from pillar to post.

In the foreground Moronao is led prisoner before Yuranosuke for identification. (See Plate 50.)

 

As a result of examining several Chushingura series by different artists, and even different series by the same artist, it will be noticed that, speaking generally, certain acts are nearly always better than others. Thus the Bridal Journey scene (Act VIII) and Honzo appearing at Yuranosuke's house (Act IX), are nearly always amongst the best, while the scene between Kampei and Bannai (Act III), and Act VI are often unsatisfactory, particularly in Hiroshige's sets.


[1] Complete set by Kunisada in the Blow sale, July, 1912.