Kuniaki Utagawa, Kabuki Actors as Fashionable Otokodate, Tattoo Design

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Artist: Kuniaki Utagawa (1835-1888)
Title: Aoto-zoshi Hana no Nishiki-e
Publisher: Kiya Sojiro
Date: 1862
Size: (L)35.7x24.6 (C)35.6x24.6 (R) 35.7x24.5 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

During the Edo Period, the samurai class had yet to adjust to the daily routine of peacetime and grew frustrated with the loss of status and usefulness. Bored and idle, they frequently caused trouble in towns and were involved in street fights and robbery. At the same time, the commoner otokodate (street knights) were gaining confidence in their strength among the merchants and they were employed by clerks, shopkeepers, innkeepers, and artisans for protection. The samurai and the otokodate were thus natural rivals, and as each group banded together into teams under leaders, fierce and bloody clashes broke out frequently.

Otokodate were also icons of fashion and followed the latest trends. They were often portrayed in woodblock prints as kabuki actors, like in this example. The actors are wearing fashionable tenugui (practical hand towel) around their necks. Tenugui became decorative accessories worn by actors and were often symbols of their eccentric nature.

More Information
Print Format Triptych
Artist Name Kuniaki Utagawa
Title Aoto-zoshi Hana no Nishiki-e
Subject Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo
Dimensions (L)35.7x24.6 (C)35.6x24.6 (R) 35.7x24.5 cm
Condition Report Trimmed, some spots on the faces, light watermarks on right and centre panels, small tear on top on right panel.