Kunichika Toyohara, Fox Tadanobu, Kabuki Play, Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees


Artist: Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)
Title: Kabuki play, Fox Tadanobu from 'Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees'
Date: Late 19th century
Dimensions: (L) 24.6 x 36.7 (C) 24.7 x 36.7 (R) 24.5 x 36.7 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print. 

This historical play of revenge happens in the aftermath of the Genpei Wars during the 12th century. The play tells of shogun Yoritomo's jealousy of his brother Yoshitsune, who is forced to run for his life. Part of the story relates to a little drum called 'Hatsune', covered in fox skin.


As he is preparing for departure, Yoshitsune's lover Shizuka Gozen catches up with them and asks to be taken along, but is not allowed to join them. Yoshitsune gives her the drum as a keepsake. Shizuka Gozen pursues Yoshitsune on Mt Yoshino, where the famous cherry trees are in full bloom. She notices that Tadanobu, Yoshitsune's loyal retainer, strangely appears out of nowhere whenever she beats the drum. Her love for Yoshitsune and Tadanobu’s sense of loyalty come together in a beautiful spring journey.


Tadanobu eventually confesses that he is actually a fox. Foxes are often depicted in Japanese folklore as having magical powers. His parents were used for the skin of the drum and missing them, he turned into a human and followed the drum. Yoshitsune compares himself with the fox as he has little attachment to his own family, and feels compassion.

Kunichika Toyohara (1835 - 1900)

One of the last great masters of ukiyo-e, Kunichika was inspired by the plays, actors and customs of kabuki theatre. His colourful prints are records of a long lost, decadent underworld of Edo. As a young man, he studied with the ukiyo-e artist Chikanobu, from whom he received his artist name. He then apprenticed under Kunisada and began to produce actor prints in the Utagawa style, though he never used the Utagawa name. Unlike most artists of the period, he made use of strong reds and dark purples, often as background colours, rather than the softer colours that had previously been used. These new colours were made of aniline dyes imported in the Meiji period from Germany. When portraying people he only occasionally showed figures wearing Western dress, despite its growing popularity in Japan. He is also one of the best known artists to have designed a great number of prints featuring tattoos, a genre made popular earlier in Edo period by Kuniyoshi Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistKunichika Toyohara (1835 - 1900)
SubjectMale & Female, Kabuki Theatre
Size(L) 24.6 x 36.7 (C) 24.7 x 36.7 (R) 24.5 x 36.7 cm
Condition ReportMinor hole and fold marks. Light stains.