Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞) / Toyokuni III (三代豊国)

Print: Scene from the play Tenjiku Tokubei Karakoto Banashi (天竺徳兵衛韓噺)
Bandō Hikosaburō IV (?) on the left, the figures in the middle panel represent 田舎娘おりさ
and Yūnen Shōnin (祐念上人) and Onoe Kikujirō II on the right as the ghost of 累ゆうこん

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Dates: 1849,created
Dimensions: 30.0 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print

Signed: Ichiyōsai Toyokuni ga
一陽斎豊国画 - on the right and left panels
Toyokuni ga (豊国画) in the center
Artist's seal: toshidama in red
Publisher: Tsutaya Kichizō (Marks 556 - seal 03-004)
Censors' seals: Fuku and Muramatsu

Related links: Tokyo Metropolitan Library - left panel; Tokyo Metropolitan Library - right panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation - right panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation - center panel; Hankyu Culture Foundation - left panel; Ritsumeikan University;

Physical description:

Tokubei plays originated centuries ago, but came to the fore in the early 19th century, 1804, to be exact, with The Tale of Tokubei from India. It “…enjoyed outstanding popularity and established its author, Tsuruya Nanboku IV (1755-1829), as the preeminent playwright of his generation.” Tokubei was based on a real merchant/trader named Takamatsu Tokubei who returned to Japan in 1633 aboard a Dutch ship. Plays about him were performed during the summers in which real water was used “…to distract audiences from the heat. Nanboku also used water and added numerous spectacular tricks (keren) to emphasize his transformation of the tale into a, at times, chilling ghost play (kaiden mono), in tune with the summer Obon (bon) festival in which the spirits of the dead were briefly welcomed home by their families.

The success of the 1804 production of Tokubei from India not only resulted in a series of revivals but also ushered in a whole slew of ghost plays. Previously ghosts had appeared in kabuki to express the yearning of a departed soul. Nanboku — inspired by the new taste of theatregoers for the bloodthirsty and bizarre, an effect of the Bunka-Bunsei (Kasei) era's (1804-1830) social decadence — wrote a series of ghost plays that aimed to terrify audiences….

The play is renowned for its spectacular tricks and unusual costumes, which represent magic and foreign influences on Japan. The play is also unusual for the multiple and rapid scene changes that contribute to the sense of supernatural uncertainty.”

Tokubei doesn’t realize it but he is the son of a Korean warrior who is hell-bent on killing the shogun. His father is in the possession of several powerful tools which help him perform magical feats. Before killing himself the father hands off these magical tools to Tokubei. The spectacles that follow in this play are astounding.

“The play is remarkable not only for preposterous magic and visually brilliant special effects, but also for the dramatic concept of supernatural chaos…”

Source and quotes are from: Kabuki Plays On Stage: Darkness and Desire, 1804-1864, volume 3, pp. 33-35.


Notice the snake coiled around the neck of the kneeling figure in the center panel. It looks like it is about to strike.