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Three heroes of the Water Margin capture the bandit queen Ichijōsei (108 Heroes of the Theatre Suikoden - Shibai Suikoden Hykuhachinin no uchi - 戯場水滸伝百八人之内)

Identifier: 1835ca Hokuei suikoden

The figures from right to left are:

1. Nakamura Shikan II ( 2代目中村 芝翫) as Kumonryū Shishin or Nine Dragons (九紋龍吏進)

2. Nakamura Utaemon III (3代目中村歌右衛門) as Nyūunryū Kō Sonshō or Dragon in the Clouds (入雲龍公孫勝)

3. Keishi (慶子), aka, Nakamura Tomijūrō II (2代目中村富十郎), as Ko Sanjō Ichijōsei (扈三娘一丈青) - the female figure

4. Arashi Rikan II (2代目嵐璃寛) as Rōrihakuchō Chōjun or White Stripe in the Waves (浪裡白跳張順)


This acclaimed masterpiece of Osaka printmaking with its detailed landscape setting provides a grand panoramic of the kabuki play, Shibai Suikoden Hyakuhachinin no uchi (108 Heroes of the Theatre Suikoden), performed in the 11th month of 1835 in Osaka. The four-panel composition features the actor Arashi Rikan II (1788-1837) as the tattooed Rorihakuto Chōjun on left, and Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838) second from the right as Ju-unryū Kosonsho. The hero, Kumonryū Shishi, on the right is likely the actor Nakamura Shikan II (1798-1852), Utaemon III’s protégé who later became Utaemon IV. Tales of the Chinese legendary “Suikoden” (water margin) outlaws and their adventures were easily adapted to exciting dramas for the kabuki stage. In this color woodcut set Hokuei captured a particular performance, but other print artists, such as Kuniyoshi, simply illustrated the well-known stories from their own imaginations.

The artist Hokuei was a pupil of Hokushū (also in this exhibition), whose portrait style greatly influenced Hokuei’s in characteristic bulging eyes and large ovoid jaws. Hokuei was a pioneer in applying luxury surimono effects to actor portrait woodcuts, such as precious metals and deep embossing. This deluxe set, which is rarely found complete, required no less than three master carvers and two printers to accomplish. Hokuei is known to have designed more than 250 compositions including some recognized as the most technically complex ukiyo-e prints ever produced.


Illustrated in 1) Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints), vol. 2, Osaka, 1998, No. 341.

2) In color in Masterpieces of Japanese Prints: The European Collections - Ukiyo-e from the Victoria and Albert Museum II, Kodansha International, 1991, pp. 130-31.

In color in 3) in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 9, pp. 124-125.

4) In a two page color fold-out in The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints by Roger Keyes and Keiko Mizushima, Philadelphia Museum of Art, text on page 146, 1973.

5) In color in Ukiyo-e to Shin hanga: The Art of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Mallard Press, 1990, p. 182.

6) In color in Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collection 5: Victoria and Albert Museum II, Kodansha, 1989, #153.

7) In a large color reproduction over two page in Japanese Prints by Catherine David, 2010, Éditions Place des Victoires, p. 294-95.


There is another copy of this composition in the Adachi Ward Museum (足立 区立郷土博物館所蔵), Tokyo.

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