Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) (artist 01/01/1797 – 04/14/1861)
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)
10 in x 13.75 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese color woodblock print
Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Publisher: Kawaguchiya Chōzō (Marks 230 seal 25-352)
Censor's seal: kiwame
Waseda University - right panel
Waseda University - this left panel 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.
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.Right after that Oiwa appears, Iemon drops the baby and it turns into a stone statue of the bodhisattva Jizō. (JSV)
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.)
Kikugorō III as an ubume (産女)
In a 2011 article, The End of the “World”: Tsuruya Nanboku IV’s Female Ghosts and Late-Tokugawa Kabuki by Satoko Shimazaki in the Monumenta Nipponica (66/2) the author wrote on pages 209-10:
“Yotsuya kaidan was first staged in 1825 at the Nakamura-za 中村座, a theater in Edo. In act 5 of that production, the ghost of Oiwa, played by Onoe Kikugorō 尾上菊五郎 III (1784–1849), emerged from a consecration cloth with an infant cradled in her arms. Oiwa was thus figured as an ubume 産女 (literally, “a woman giving birth”), a particular type of ghost associated with pregnancy and childbirth that would have had deep psychological resonances for the audience of Nanboku’s day. Nanboku employs the ubume in a number of earlier plays—indeed, it appears in almost all of his major ghost plays. Ubume were ubiquitous in the theater and literature of this period, appearing again and again not only in Nanboku’s works but also in the fiction of major writers such as Shikitei Sanba 式亭三馬 (1776–1822), Santō Kyōden 山東京伝 (1761–1816), and Kyokutei Bakin 曲亭馬琴 (1767–1848). Our interpretation of the meaning of this scene in Yotsuya kaidan must be tied, then, to a larger understanding of Nanboku’s and the kabuki theater’s mobilization of the ubume as a dramatic trope and of the roles the ubume played in the broader context of nineteenth-century cultural production. In other words, we must ask why ghosts in the theater and literature of the early nineteenth century were associated so pervasively with pregnancy, and also why the ubume became so popular as a motif, particularly in the first three decades of the century.”
Later on page 211 Shimazaki wrote: "Although Yotsuya kaidan was staged approximately twenty times during the last forty years of the Tokugawa period in both Edo and Osaka, this scene was dropped after the first production in 1825 and replaced with a special effect in which Oiwa emerges from a burning lantern. With the exception of a few modern revivals it played no part in the play’s subsequent performative or cinematic reception."
This print commemorates a performance held at the Morita Theater in the seventh month of 1836.
Illustrated in a full page black and white reproduction in Kuniyoshi by B. W. Robinson, London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1961, #74.
Kawaguchiya Chōzō (川口屋長蔵) (publisher)
Onoe Kikugorō III (三代目尾上菊五郎: 11/1815-3/1848) (actor)
actor prints (yakusha-e - 役者絵) (genre)
Yūrei-zu (幽霊図 - ghosts demons monsters and spirits) (genre)
Oiwa (お岩) (role)
Tsuruya Nanboku IV (四代目鶴屋南北) (author)