Shunkōsai Hokushū (春好斎北洲) (artist ca 1808 – 1832)

Onoe Kikugorō III (尾上菊五郎) as the ghost of Oiwa in the play Irohagana Yotsuya Kaidan (伊呂波四谷怪談) second state of this print


10 in x 15 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese color woodblock print

Signed: Shunkōsai Hokushū ga
Unknown seal: 王水
Lyon Collection (later Kuniyoshi version)
Philadelphia Museum of Art - first state of this print
Barry Rosensteel Japanese Print Collection, U. of Pittsburgh
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg - same state as the Lyon Collection print
British Museum
Náprstek Museum
Allentown Museum of Art
Chazen Museum of Art

"According to a critique of the 1826 Osaka performance of the play Irohagana Ghost Stories at Yotsuya (Irohagana Yotsuya kaidan) the sight of Onoe Kikugorō III (1784-1849) as the hideous Oiwa, descending headfirst from the ceiling as if from the sky, provoked a member of the audience to shout, "Her face looks like a bloated octopus!" The local artist Shunkōsai Hokushū (act. 1800-30) memorializes the effect as if he were a courtroom illustrator: Oiwa's swollen, misshapen head hangs heavy on her emaciated frame, her shoulders slump and her thumb picks nervously at a finger... As is typical of Japanese ghost pictures, she has long, disheveled hair, wears a white gown and has no feet. The flame behind her is a shinka, or "spirit flame," that represents a sort of supernatural manifestation that accompanies or stands in for a ghost. The plain background and the swath of black across the top of the print highlight the eerie presence of the ghost, but the silver-printed poem attributed to Kikugorō, suing his poetry name Baikō, assures the viewer that eventually she will leave and go back where she belongs: "It doesn't stay, just melts away, fortunately: spring snow."

Quoted from: "The Ghost of Oiwa in Actor Prints: Confronting Disfigurement" by Satoko Shimazaki, Impressions, #29, 2007-2008, p. 77.


"At the end of the play the ghost of the murdered Oiwa follows her husband to his mountain hideaway. There she haunts him until he is driven mad with fear and almost welcomes Oiwa's brother, the avenger. The inscription by Kikugorō III relating to his role in the play reads:

Six years ago my father Shōroku's contrivance of a wicked spirit was well received, and although this is neither new nor proper to the season, I could not refuse the many people who insisted on my performing it.

Happily it does not stay, but disappears: spring snow. -- Baikō

"At least three states of the print are known. the first bears the names of the engraver Kasuke and two printers, with the writing printed in silver. The second (illustrated here) lacks the names of the engraver and printers. A third state, coarsely printed, has the writing in black."

-- from Roger Keys and Keiko Mizushima, The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, 1973, Philadelphia Museum of Art (pages 108-109)

First staged in July 1825, Yotsuya Kaidan appeared at the Nakamuraza Theater in Edo (the former name of present-day Tokyo) as a double-feature with the immensely popular Kanadehon Chushingura. The play was incredibly successful, and forced the producers to schedule extra out-of-season performances to meet demand.

The story tapped into people’s fears by bringing the ghosts of Japan out of the temples and aristocrats' mansions and into the home of common people, the exact type of people who were the audience of his theater.


This print commemorates a performance at Kado-za in the first month of 1826.


Often in kabuki theater ghosts are represented by figures in white robes, but not always. The white robe is similar to a katabira, a summer robe, but it is referred to as a kyōkatabira (経帷子). After a person died their body was washed, often by female family members, and prepared in a certain way. At the end, whether Shintō or Buddhist, they were dressed in a white garment to start them on their next (spiritual/afterlife) journey. "Three women of the community followed strict rules in making the death robe. They measured the cloth by hand instead of with a ruler, tore the cloth instead of cutting it with scissors, sewed the seams so that the stitches were visible, left the ends of the threads unknotted, and made no collar. Making the garment different from the clothes worn by the living emphasized the contrast between life and death..." That is why we see the figure of Oiwa in a loose white robe in this print.


The text on this print starts: "今ょり六とせまへに父松緑が工天せし亡魂のわざおきも..."



1) In color in Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints) vol. 1, Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka 1997, no. 165.

2) In color in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 9, p. 119.

3) In a small color reproduction in Schätze der Kamigata: Japanische Farbholzschnitte aus Osaka 1780-1880, MNHA (Musée national d'histoire et d'art Luxembourg), p. 112, #238, 2012. [Third state of this print as laid out by Keyes.]

4) In a large black and white, full page, reproduction in The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints by Roger Keyes, p. 109.

5) in color in Catalogue of Japanese Art in the Náprstek Museum published by The International Research Center for Japanese Studies: Nichibunken Japanese Studies Series 4, 1994, p. 142.

Onoe Kikugorō III (三代目尾上菊五郎: 11/1815-3/1848) (actor)
Kyōto-Osaka prints (kamigata-e - 上方絵) (genre)
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)