Chikanobu Yoshu, Yotsuya Kaidan, Kabuki Play, Ghost Story


Artist: Chikanobu Yoshu (1838-1912)
Title: Kabuki play, Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan
Publisher: Hashimoto Naoyoshi
Date: 1884
Dimensions: (L) 23.7 x 35 (C) 24.8 x 35 (R) 24.9 x 34.9 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

'Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan' is one perhaps the most famous revenge ghost story of Japan. The unfortunate Oiwa is being mistreated by her evil husband, Iemon, who wants to divorce her and marry the daughter of his wealthy neighbour Kihei. Poisoned by Iemon, Oiwa subsequently returns as a ghost in many different manifestations, haunting Iemon until he is slowly driven mad and drowns himself into a river.


This triptych shows Iemon as a dashing and stylish man, posing with two side characters of the play. The colourful composition contrasts strongly with the tragic events that are about to unfold and sets a rather eerie feeling.

Chikanobu Yoshu

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
SubjectSamurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Ghosts & Religion
Dimensions(L) 23.7 x 35 (C) 24.8 x 35 (R) 24.9 x 34.9 cm