Chikanobu Yoshu, First Horse Day, Chiyoda Palace


Artist: Chikanobu Yoshu (1838-1912)
Title: First Horse Day
Series: The Inner Palace of Chiyoda
Publisher: Fukuda Hatsujiro
Date: 1896
Size: (L) 37.3 x 25.3, (C) 37.3 x 25.2, (R) 37.2 x 25.3 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Kabuki actors gather outside the main hall of the Oku residential area to prepare a special performance on the first horse day of the lunar New Year. The celebrations are based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. The troupe features a falconer, Wisteria Maiden, a daimyo's porter, heroic Aotake Goro with his giant arrow, red-faced demon and warrior monk Benkei carrying an enormous temple bell.


The residence in the background or blossoming plums contrasts with the vivid colours of the performers. The point of the attention might be the ornamental kimono of Wisteria Maiden, beautifully adorned with flowers in full bloom. The New Year play is about to begin as the tension can be sensed between the patiently waiting audience and rehearsing troupe.

Chikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)

Chikanobu Yoshu was a woodblock print artist from the end of the 19th century. He was one of the most prolific woodblock print artists of this period, working with both traditional subjects, such as actors, courtesans, scenes of famous sites, beautiful women, and with topical subjects, such as war and rebellion. Born into a samurai family in Echigo province, Chikanobu became one of the final, great, ukiyo-e artists aiming to preserve the traditional culture of Japan at a time when the country was becoming rapidly modernised. As a child, he studied Kano style painting. When he moved to Tokyo he studied print design first at the studio of Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1797-1861) and later on at that of Kunisada I Utagawa (1786–1865).

The end of the Edo period (1603-1868) and the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912) brought a rapid influx of Western values and technologies that influenced many artists of this time, including Chikanobu. As a result, he developed a distinctive personal style blending a close adherence to the traditional technique of ukiyo-e, and occasional western imagery. He designed prints rooted in traditional myths and legends but also kaika-e, prints that documented Japan's modernization, the Emperor Meiji and the imperial court's promotion of that modernization.

Even though Chikanobu’s prints showcase a variety of subjects, due to the wealth of his beauties and court ladies works, it is believed that the customs and events of the imperial family were his favourite subject. Out of these prints, the most well-known series is probably ‘The Inner Palace of Chiyoda’ (‘Chiyoda no O-oku’), which depicts the court life in the palace of the Tokugawa shogunate. Influenced by the rapid changes happening in Japanese society following the Meiji restoration, Chikanobu also produced beauty prints showing ladies in Western clothing, as opposed to kimono. Chikanobu's last works in the early years of the 20th century featured brave samurai and heroic women of Japan's past, models of appropriate behaviour for the future.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistChikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Male & Female, Kabuki Theatre, Kimono Design
Size(L) 37.3 x 25.3, (C) 37.3 x 25.2, (R) 37.2 x 25.3 cm
SeriesCourt Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace::Chikanobu Yoshu
publisherFukuda Kumajiro, Hatsujiro:1874-1898