Artist: Shunbaisai Hokuei (春梅斎北英)

Print: Arashi Rikan II as Soma Tarō in Soma Tarō mibae bundan [相馬太郎みばえ文談]

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Dates: 1832,created
Dimensions: 9.75 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese woodblock print

Signed: Shunkōsai Hokuei ga
Seal: Fumoto no ume
(Plum tree in the foothills)

Related links: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Lyon Collection - related diptych by Shigeharu;Lyon Collection - single Shigeharu print, the right side of the diptych;Philadelphia Museum of Art - Hirosada print of Soma Tarō, right panel of a triptych; Lyon Collection - thematically linked Kuniyoshi print;Lyon Collection - another thematically linked Kuniyoshi print;Lyon Collection - thematically linked Toyokuni III print;Lyon Collection - thematically linked Yoshitsuya triptych;Pushkin Museum of Art;

Physical description:

This print commemorates a performance at the Naka Theater in Osaka in 1832.


"This performance of Soma Tarō mibae bundan (The story of Tarô, heir to the Soma clan) was part of a kaomise (face-showing: 顔見世), the introduction of newly engaged actors for the upcoming season. It was an adaptation of the tale of Taira Masakado (Soma no Kojirō, died 940), a general formerly with the regent Fujiwara Takahira, who maneuvered to take control of the eight eastern provinces and declare himself emperor. Takahira's warriors defeated Masakado and then his son Soma Tarō in a failed attempt to avenge his father's death.

Theatrical dramatizations featuring Masakado were infused with an atmosphere of the supernatural. Masakado had the ability to create ghostly clones of himself, and his castle in Soma (near Sendai) was said to be haunted by the shades of his retainers....

Soma Tarō is shown opening a scroll containing magical incantations, which he hopes to use against the Fujiwara. On his right, he spies his father Masakado's spirit fire flickering in the air.

Poem (signed "Jubai Shujin"):

Aoyagi no me / wa hitoshio ni / iro zo aru / ume mo tsubaki mo / ikade oyoban

(The young buds of the willow / are so colorful / how could the plum / and camellia / ever equal them?)

The verse, printed in metallics, includes the word me ("new growth"), but it also means "eyes," and refers to Rikan's expressive eyes — the actor was nicknamed metoku Rikan (Rikan with the powerful eyes). The plum is also an allusion to Rikan's stage rival, Nakamura Utaemon III.

This composition is widely considered to be one of Hokuei's masterpieces. Beyond the superb block cutting (by Kasuke, who hand-stamped his seal in the lower right corner) and sophisticated color printing, the design is celebrated for the expressive use of a startling cobalt blue in the background, contributing to the supernatural atmosphere of the scene."

This section is quoted directly from OsakaPrints.com.

More of the background story

"Taira no Masakado, an ambitious and disaffected courtier, left Kyōto at the beginning of the tenth century and established a large domain in the eastern region around the present city of Tokyo. As his power increased, the government grew apprehensive and when imperial troops were sent against him in 940 he was defeated and killed. Two children succeeded him: a son Soma Tarō, and a daughter, Takiyashi, who both vowed to restore their family's lost fortunes. To obtain supernatural powers like her father's, young Takiyashi took religious orders, became a devotee of the Bodhisattva Jizō and undertook severe silent ascetic practices one winter on Mt. Tsukuba. Her persistence was rewarded and she met an elderly magician name Iga no Jutarō on the mountain from whom she learned the elements of toad magic. She subsequently returned to her father's ruined palace and worked to restore its former glory."

Quoted from: Hirosada: Osaka Printmaker by Roger Keyes, 1984, p. 101.


Illustrated in color in a full-page reproduction in Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings - 1680-1860 edited by Julia Meech and Jane Oliver, p. 204, 2008.

"As Tarō unrolls a scroll of spells to use to avenge the death of his father, the wizard-general Masakado, he senses the spirit of his parent, manifested as a silver flame." (p. 205)


There are two other prints by Shigeharu in the Lyon Collection related to this print. See the links above.