Kanjinchō, One of the 18 Great Plays of Kabuki
Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900) has been called the last great master of ukiyo-e. His dramatic Kabuki three-page sets of prints are much admired for their skilled use of color. Here he portrays Kanjinchō, a Kabuki play written earlier in the 19th century. This nishiki-e (Japanese multicolored woodblock print) was based on a performance of the play in May 1890 and published that year. The story is set in the late 12th century and shows at left Minamoto no Yoshitsune, played by Onoe Kikugorō V (1844–1903). Yoshitsune is a son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, the former head of the Minamoto clan (also called Genji clan), and he and his followers are being hunted by his brother, the Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo, the present head of the clan. While they are fleeing in the disguise of yamabushi (Buddhist mountain priests), they come to a checkpoint at Ataka in Kaga Province. There they are harshly interrogated by Togashi Saemon no jō, seen at right played by Ichikawa Sadanji I (1842–1904), who is under Yoritomo’s orders to arrest them. One of Yoshitsune’s followers, the quick-witted Benkei, seen at center played by Ichikawa Danjuro IX (1838–1903), asserts that they are not Yoshitsune’s party but real yamabushi, journeying around the provinces seeking donations for the rebuilding of the Tōdaiji Temple in Nara, which burned down in a battle. Challenged to prove his identity, Benkei takes out a blank scroll and says that it is a kanjinchō (subscription list formally laying out the benefits of donating to rebuilding temples) and pretends to read from it. Sparks fly from the eyes of one man to another. Benkei, anticipating that his ruse will be exposed, stares hard at his opponent. Togashi, sniffing out Benkei’s deceit, unsheaths his sword. Yoshitsune, dressed as a porter but behaving as if the deception has been detected, prepares to fight. The triptych depicts the whole situation, showing the complex feelings of each man through the expressions and gestures of the players. The old pine tree and the young bamboo trees painted behind the actors are based on the backdrop of Noh plays, which predated Kabuki.
Fukuda Kumajiro, Tokyo
Title in Original Language
Type of Item
Set of three : woodblock prints, color ; 35.7 × 25.5 centimeters
Last updated: June 19, 2017