The Actor Ichikawa Danjūrō in the Role of Kudō Suketsune


The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Yakusha-e (pictures of actors) were inexpensive, costing about as much as a bowl of noodles, and were considered ephemera intended to be sold immediately as souvenirs and enjoyed briefly. They served to promote contemporary Kabuki actors, who were viewed as cultural icons. This innovative yakusha-e print is by Shunjō, who flourished in the 1780s. It shows a reflection in the mirror of the actor Ichikawa Danjōrō, dressed as Suketsune, a character from the Kabuki play Soga no Taimen (Meeting of the Soga). The play is based on a popular war chronicle set in the 12th century, in which the Soga brothers seek revenge for their father who was murdered by Suketsune. The role of Suketsune was customarily played by an actor of highest rank in the theater.

Last updated: September 18, 2015