Kunisada Utagawa, Returning Spirit, 53 Parallels for the Tokaido Road


Artist: Kunisada Utagawa (1786 - 1864)
Title: 42. Miya. The Grave of the Returning Spirit
Series: Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road
Publisher: Enshuya Matabei
Date: c. 1845
Size: 24.5 x 36.3 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Kunisada Utagawa, Spirit, Tokaido Road, kimono, japanese woodblock print
Kunisada Utagawa, Spirit, Tokaido Road, kimono, japanese woodblock print Kunisada Utagawa, Spirit, Tokaido Road, kimono, japanese woodblock print

The series 'Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road' became famous for its striking designs and stories illustrated, but also because of the collaboration between publishers and three important artists of the day. Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861) produced thirty-one prints for the series, Utagawa Hiroshige (1797 - 1858) nineteen and Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1864) the remaining eight, adding up to more than the 'fifty-three' prints implied in the title. Each print has a cartouche at the top with explanatory text on the stories drawn from folklore and history associated with the post-stations of Tokaido.


This print shows the ghost of the lady Fuji no Tsubone appearing to her husband Taira no Tsunemori, a minor member of the Taira (Heike) clan. The small parcel held by him is an incense called hangonko. It is believed that the spirit of dead people will show up if the incense is lit.

Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)

Kunisada I Utagawa was a prolific woodblock print artist mostly known for his pictures of beautiful women (bijinga) and kabuki actors prints (yakusha-e). Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he became a pupil of Toyokuni I Utagawa (1769-1825) at the age of 15 and would later adopt his name in the traditional Japanese manner, becoming Toyokuni III and continuing the development of the Utagawa art school.

Kunisada’s pictures reflect the culture of Japan in the years leading up to the country’s opening to the West. His first book illustrations were published in 1807 and his first actor portrait the following year. Alongside theatrical scenes and courtesans, yakusha-e was his preferred genre amidst all his popular and extensive output. As he painted a large number of these, continuing the stout realism of his teacher, he acquired the nickname ‘Yakusha-e no Kunisada’ – Kunisada, the actor painter. In his numerous bijinga he clung to the ideal of beauty prevalent at the time. Most of the women portrayed were courtesans from Yoshiwara, the regulated red-light district of the city.

In 1820s Kunisada joined author Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) to work on illustrating a series of books based on the classical novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, the reinterpreted story having been relocated from the old capital of Kyoto to the new audience in Edo. The work started a new ukiyo-e genre, genji-e, and proved an overnight success, becoming the first Japanese publication to sell over 10,000 copies, a record which stood for many years.

Kunisada gave his audience an escape from the restrictions of their ordinary lives and his designs, with their optimism and energy, still have the capacity today to attract and entertain. Notable students of Kunisada included Kunichika Toyohara, Sadahide Utagawa and Kunisada II Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistToyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Male & Female, Ghosts & Religion
Dimensions24.5 x 36.3 cm
Condition ReportBinding holes on the left. Slightly trimmed. Some wear on the edges and corners. Light soiling throughout.
SeriesThe Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road
PublisherEnshuya Matabei
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