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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Onoe Kikugorō III (三代目尾上菊五郎) as the
ghost of Oiwa (お岩亡霊) in Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談)

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Dates: 1836,created
Dimensions: 10.0 in,13.75 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
(一勇斎国芳画)
Publisher: Kawaguchiya Chōzō (Marks 230 seal 25-352)
Censor's seal: kiwame

Related links: Waseda University - right panel; Waseda University - this left panel;

Physical description:

Left panel of a diptych. Onoe Kikugorō who specialized in supernatural roles, seen here in his most famous ghostly part as Oiwa, in the production of Yotsuya Kaidan at the Moritaya in the 7th month of Tempo 7 (August 1836).

ex C. H. Michell collection ex B. W. Robinson collection. This example illustrated full page in Robinson's Kuniyoshi plate 74.

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Arguably the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, Otsuya Kaidan has been adapted for film over 30 times, and continues to be an influence on Japanese horror today. Oiwa was poisoned by her husband lemon, but her hideously deformed specter returned to blight his life.

When this play was first produced there was a scene at the very beginning where Iemon goes out into a garden to water a special plant place below a cloth suspended by bamboo rods, a nagare kanjō (流灌頂). When he begins to pour the water, the water turns into a spirit flame and the ghost of his wife rises up holding a baby to her breast. This particular kind of ghost is referred to as an ubume (産女) or 'birthing woman ghost'.

Shortly after the original performance, the watering the plant/ghost scene was replaced with a ghost that comes out of a flaming lantern. That is the way the play is being presented here in this Kuniyoshi print. But, even the ghost/lantern scene is rarely performed today because it no longer has the time-specific cultural resonance it once had. (JSV)

The kabuki scholar Gunji Masakatsu (郡司正勝: 1913-84) wrote of the original staging of the ubume scene:

Iemon picks up the ladle in the bucket and approaches [the nagare kanjō]. Then a ghost flute (netori 寝鳥) is played with the low beating of the drum (usu doro doro 薄ドロドロ), and there is the solemn sound of a small gong. Iemon pours water on the cloth. The water turns into a soul flame as it touches the cloth. The eerie sound of the drumming picks up its pace, growing more intense. The snow falls harder. Oiwa appears from the cloth in the guise of an ubume; her lower body is drenched in blood, and she cradles her baby in her arms. Suddenly catching sight of her, Iemon steps back, startled. They change positions and Oiwa proceeds to stage left, leaving red footprints on the white snow. Iemon edges back into the house and Oiwa follows him. Torn pieces of paper are scattered throughout the house; Oiwa walks across them, leaving bloody stains.

Iemon: Hmmm. What a spiteful woman. I know you’re a ghost, but do listen to what I have to say. I married Kihei’s 喜兵衛 granddaughter in the hope of sneaking into the Kōno’s 高野 residence and directing the other loyal retainers. Disloyal in appearance, I’m actually loyal at heart. And now everything has been ruined—all on account of a woman’s stupid grudge! You made me kill my grandfather-in-law and bride. Kihei’s daughter and nurse drowned as a result of your ghostly curse! And on top of that, you cruelly murdered our newborn boy! Is this your curse, dead woman, to discontinue my line? What a frightening woman. (Iemon shows emotion.)

Iemon snaps at Oiwa. Oiwa in turn shows him the baby cradled in her arms. (Iemon shows emotion.)

Iemon: Can it be! The dead woman appears to have cared for the boy! (Iemon shows emotion.)

Iemon joyfully takes the baby in his arms.

Iemon: Despite all that came between us, you’re still my wife. Well done, well done. If those are your true feelings, depart in peace. Hail Buddha, hail Buddha. (Iemon cradles the baby and chants Buddhist prayers. Oiwa covers her ears with both hands, blocking out Iemon’s prayers.)

Right after that Oiwa appears, Iemon drops the baby and it turns into a stone statue of the bodhisattva Jizō. (JSV)

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This print commemorates a performance held at the Morita Theater in the seventh month of 1836.