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Matsumoto Kōshirō VII as Benkei

Identifier: 1935 Shunsen Koshiro VII

The background of this print uses the itame mokuhan or imitation woodgrain technique (板目木版). "The printing of a wood grain within a print. A wood plank is soaked in water to open up the grain and is then inked and printed to intentionally reproduce the nature of the wood itself."


The print in the Lyon Collection is the left-hand sheet of a diptych.

complete diptych in Waseda collection

The publisher was Watanabe Shuzaburō. This print was commissioned by the actor.

The left panel, which is missing from the Lyon Collection, is inscribed with the text: shoran are, kiri no haru no, mai no sode ((for your pleasure, mists of spring, dance of the sleeves). It is signed Kinshō, one of the actor's poetry names, and is accompanied by his seal: Nana dai me Matsumoto Kōshirō. (JSV)

Another translation of the actor's poem reads: Seeing clearly, Spring mist, The dance of the sleeves. Signed Kinshō, the actor's poetry name, on the right panel.


The full diptych is illustrated twice in color - on pages 51 and 131 - in Stars of the Tokyo Stage, the catalogue accompanying the exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia.

The catalogue notes:

Shunsen depicts one of kabuki's most celebrated (mie poses - when Benkei, dressed as a warrior-priest and holding a blank scroll, readies himself to convince Yoritomo's men that he is not harbouring the renegade Yoshitsune. The artist captures the tension of the moment and accurately illustrates the details of Benkei's mountain-priest disguise.
It is also noted that "Kōshirō VII was legendary for performing the role of Benkei in The subscription list over 1600 times."


There is a photograph of Matsumoto Kōshirō VII in this pose and costume in Zöe Kincaid's book on kabuki from 1925. It appears on the 1977 reprint on page 265. It is not the same as the photo linked to above at Wikimedia.

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