Kunichika Toyohara, Kabuki Play, Gosho no Gorozo


Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Kabuki play, Sogamoyo Tateshi no Goshozome
Publisher: Fujiokaya Keijiro
Date: 1864
Dimensions: (L) 24.8 x 36.5 (C) 24.9 36.5 (R) 24.9 x 36.5 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Japanese kabuki theatre started out as a type of dance and evolved into a theatre play, where in order to make a more dramatic and memorable performance the actors wear decorative costumes and apply make-up. Thus, Japanese kabuki is a type of stylised dance-drama.
Surprisingly, it all started with Izumo no Okuni, a woman who began performing a special her own style of dance. Then, kabuki adopted her moves and both male and female artists performed it skillfully. However, in 1629, the government banned women from the theatre as it started attracting bad crowds.


Sogamoyo Tateshi no Goshozome (The Gallant Commoner Gosho no Gorozo) was a play first performed in 1864 and was written by Kawatake Mokuami. It is a story of Gosho no Gorozo who is expelled from his samurai duties because of the affair with the lady-in-waiting Satsuki. Next, as an otokodate (chivalrous commoner) gang leader he confronts his adversary in order to win the heart of Satsuki who became a courtesan in the Yoshiwara district.


The image depicts a spring scene, the room with four actors, one of them onnagata (young male kabuki actor performing the role of a woman). Finely dressed courtesan centres the image, her hairstyle suggesting high rank in the tea house she belongs to.

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)
SubjectSamurai & Male, Male & Female, Kabuki Theatre
Size(L) 24.8 x 36.5 (C) 24.9 36.5 (R) 24.9 x 36.5 cm
Condition ReportMinor spots. Light creases.
publisherFujioka-ya Keijiro:1843-1923