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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Ichikawa Kodanji IV as the ghost of Hōkaibō (法界坊ぼうこん) on right
with Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Shimobe Gunsuke (下部軍助)

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Dates: 1848,created
Dimensions: 10.0 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
一勇斎国芳画
Artist's seal: kiri in red
Publisher: Minatoya Kohei
(Marks 332 - seal 24-075)
Censor seals: Muramatsu, Yoshimura

Related links: Waseda University - left panel; Waseda University - right panel; Kuniyoshi Project (triptych example); Library of Congress - another Kuniyoshi representation of this scene from the same period, but this time a triptych; Lyon Collection - another copy of the right hand panel;

Physical description:

These are possibly the center and left panels of a triptych. However, as of now we only know it as a diptych.

There is a distinct possibility that the actor on the right actually had the bottom of his costume set on fire for this dramatic affect. In describing a scene from another play the "...Okyōgen gakuya no honsetsu 御狂言楽屋本説 (What Really Happens Backstage, 1858–1859) in the entry on “Asagaobi no yūrei” あさがほ火の幽霊 (Ghosts that burn like a morning glory)—a name that derives, presumably, from the shape of the ghost’s burning robe."

It says:

Ghosts that burn like a morning glory: The actor puts on a long robe that tapers below the waist. This is then saturated with shōchū 焼酎 [a type of alcoholic beverage]. When the ghost is hoisted up from above, the tip of the robe is set on fire and the kimono burns below the waist. This is known as the “morning glory.”
The effect that such a scene must have had on theater goers must have been astounding, with a lot of ooohs and aaahs and quite a few gasps thrown in for good measure. (JSV)

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Ghosts and spirits are often represented in Japanese prints by a flame motif floating free in space, a hitodama (人魂). However, this is not always the case. Sometimes there is no flame present. But when it is it is you can be sure that that is a dead giveaway that something other worldly is happening.

One source we have read said that ghosts are often represented as floating because the demons of hell have deprived them of their legs.

In the case of the right-hand panel of this 'diptych' in the Lyon Collection there is a particularly spectacular flame that radiates from red at the bottom to yellow in the middle to green at the top. This is an exception in ukiyo-e prints. Of course, there are a few other three color examples, but nothing as spectacular as the one seen here. (JSV)

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Samuel L. Leiter in Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theater writes of one of the Hōkaibō centered plays:

"The scenes now revived of this rare black comedy are those that focus on the antics of the mangy, depraved priest Hōkaibō, by whose name the play is usually known... The role of Hōkaibō traditionally allows its actor considerable latitude for comic improvisation.

The Yoshida family of Kyoto has fallen on hard times because of the loss of their precious scroll painting of a carp; the young lord Ushiwakamaru sets out to find it, changing his name to Matsuwakamaru and taking employment at the Eirakuya pawnshop in Edo under the name Yōsuke. Meanwhile, his betrothed, Princess Nowake, leaves Kyoto for Edo, searching for him in the guise of an herb seller.

Osakaya Gen'emon, an art dealer, obtains the scroll at the request of Oraku, widowed proprietor of the Eirakuya. To get it she agrees to his request that her daughter, Okumi, marry him. Yōsuke, who is loved by him. Yōsuke, who is loved by Okumi, needs 100 ryō to get the scroll. At the Daishichi restaurant in Mukaijima, Hōkaibō, who lusts after Okumi, is jealous of the love between Okumi and Yōsuke. He switches the subscription banner he is using to raise money for a temple bell with the carp scroll. Later, Gen'emon gets angry when he realizes that the young couple are in love. Unaware that Hōkaibō has made a switch, he does the same, replacing the subscription banner with a scroll hanging in the restaurant's floral display alcove (tokonoma). The clerk Chōkurō attempts to cheat Yōsuke by saying he is lending him the needed 100 ryō but gives him instead a packet of phony money, for which the overjoyed Yōsuke writes him an IOU.

Gen'emon, disturbed over the love between Yōsuke and Okumi, quarrels with Oraku. Chōkurō demands the money he loaned Yōsuke, and he and Hōkaibō beat Yōsuke for having switched phony money for the real thing, but the curio dealer Jinza, connected to Yōsuke's family, steps in to help Yōsuke. When Hōkaibō tries to use a letter he found from Okumi to Yōsuke as proof of their illicit affair, Jinza, who found a letter from Hōkaibō to Okumi, substitutes it for the other one, to the embarrassment of Hōkaibō, who runs off. While Chōkurō is tormenting Yōsuke, the apprentice Chōta burns the IOU that Yōsuke wrote, destroying the proof of the loan. Jinza takes responsibility for Yōsuke and the pair leave together.

Chōkurō receives the carp scroll from Hōkaibō. He captures Okumi, who has come in search of Yōsuke, and thrusts her and the scroll into a palanquin he has made ready. While Chōkurō leaves the scene for a moment, Hōkaibō snatches Okumi from the palanquin and, when a drunken man carrying a wicker basket is accidentally knocked unconscious, puts the man in the palanquin and Okumi in the basket, while also recovering the scroll. Meanwhile, Gen'emon, who hates Yōsuke, rips up the presumed carp scroll in front of Yōsuke, for which Yōsuke kills him. Jinza comes running and, with Yōsuke, is putting Gen'emon's body into the basket when they find Okumi inside and rescue her. Yōsuke and Okumi run off together.

Yōsuke, Princess Nowake, and Okumi are passing by Hōkaibō's hovel on the Mimeguri bank of the Sumidagawa River when the sound of thunder makes them faint. Hōkaibō ties up Yōsuke and tries to seduce Nowake, but she resists. Telling her it was Yōsuke's idea to get her out of the way so he could be with Okumi, he kills her. As he tries to seduce Okumi, Jinza comes rushing in. He gets Yōsuke and Okumi to disguise themselves as herb sellers and flee, slays Hōkaibō, and retrieves the carp scroll.

In the final scene, “Futa Omote Mizu ni Terutsuki,” Okumi and Yōsuke, in their herb seller disguises, arrive at the Sumidagawa ferry crossing run by Oshizu. They hold a memorial service for Nowake, and her angry spirit rises out of the smoke, along with the ghost of Hōkaibō, who also appears as the spirit of Okumi. The two Okumis speak and dance as Yōsuke tries to figure out which is which. When Oshizu displays a statue of the goddess Kannon, the ghosts appear in their true forms. Ultimately, Hōkaibō's ghost is quelled by the arrival of an oshimodoshi and the play ends in a tableau, with Hōkaibō on top of a temple bell in a parody of Kyōkanoko Musume Dōjōji."

[We chose to highlight Hōkaibō's name in bold type to make it easier for you to scan this entry.]

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A very similar triptych exists with an additional panel on the right -- the triptych omits the rain, adds blood on Kodanji IV's hands and shoulders, and Danjūrō holds an umbrella rather than a sword (plus other differences in costume).

This diptych commemorates a performance of Sumida River Ghost Story (Kaidan Sumidagawa - 怪談隅田川) at the Ichimura Theater 1848/6.

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"Hōkaibō, Title of a Kabuki play written in 1783: an evil Buddhist monk tries to seduce a young woman and kills a princess, whose ghost haunts him forever." Quoted from: Japan Encyclopedia by Louis Frédéric, p. 342.

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The figure of Hōkaibō in an earlier play by Chikamatsu was a tengu goblin who took the form of a yamabushi mountain priest.