Toyohara Kunichika, Actors as Underworld Characters in Hit Plays

Toyohara Kunichika, 1835-1900

Actors as Underworld Characters in Hit Plays: Actor Nakamura Fukusuke II as Akatsuki Hoshigoro
(Isa shiranami atari goketsu: Akatsuki Hoshigoro)

signed Kunichika ga with artist's seal Toshidama, publisher's seal Hanmoto, Izutsuya (Izutsuya Shokichi) carver's seal Katada Hori Cho (Katada Chojiro), combined censor and date seal Ne-go, aratame (year of the rat [1864], 5th month, examined)

oban tate-e 14 by 9 5/8 in., 35.6 by 24.6 cm

Nakamura Fukusuke II (1839-1867) is imagined in the role of the larger-than-life bandit Akatsuki Hoshigoro. Based on a real-life underworld figure named Shirasu Shozaemon, an otokodate (chivalrous commoner) who operated in the Kanto and Kansai areas using his 'fire magic' to harass daimyo retainers. He made the transition from life to art as a disguise used by a kabuki character in the play Kiku no entsuki no shiranami staged at the Kawarazaki Theater in the 9th month of 1821 as recorded in a print by Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825), and another by Utagawa Kuniyasu (1794-1832). The Hoshigoro disguise appears again in the play Yayoi no hana Oedo no irifune at the Nakamura Theater in the 3rd month of 1837 which is immortalized in a print by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865). Subsequent sporadic depictions of the character appear to all be mitate--imagining actors portraying his dashing personae, as is the case with this print. Fukusuke II is imagined as Hoshigoro, wearing a hood adorned with a large demonic bat face with protruding fangs and yellowed eyes suggesting something otherworldly about this character.

Tokyo Metropolitan Library (, accession no. N054-55 (1821 Kuniyasu print)
Waseda University Theater Museum (, accession no. 100-0954 (1821 Toyokuni I print)
Andreas Marks, Kunisada's Tokaido: Riddles in Japanese Woodblock Prints, 2013, p. 96, no. T61-29 (1837 Kunisada print)



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