Toyohara Kunichika, ‘Prince Mongaku with Fudo Myo-o, Kongara, and Seitaka Beneath the Nachi Waterfall’, ca. 1883, Scholten Japanese Art

signed Toyohara Kunichika hitsu, artist's seal Toshidama, publisher's seal unread, ca. 1883

oban tate-e triptych 14 1/4 by 28 1/8 in., 36.1 by 71.4 cm

This triptych depicts actors in four roles from the play Hashi Kuyo Bonji no Mongaku (The Austerities of Mongaku). At center is the actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX (1838-1903) in roles of both Fudo Myo-o and the Priest Mongaku. After accidentally murdering his cousin and lover Kesa Gozen at age 19, Mongaku becomes a wandering ascetic, eventually praying beneath the cold Nachi waterfalls in search of penance. After 21 days under the freezing water gripping a Buddhist bell between his teeth, the deity Fudo Myo-o emerges to relieve Mongaku of his suffering. Fudo carries his attributes: a sword to subdue ignorance, and a rope, with which he lifts the wicked into goodness. Fudo took pity on the priest, and helped him through his penitence. On either side of Fudo Myo-o are actors in the roles of his two attendants. In the right panel, the actor Nakamura Shikan IV (1831-1899) is in the role of Kongara, and in the left panel Suketakaya Kosuke IV (Suketakaya Takasuke IV, 1838-1886) is the role of Seitaka. The three deities are often depicted in tandem.

The Danjuro family worshiped the deity Fudo ever since an early Danjuro prayer to the god for a child was answered. Their yago (lit. house-name) is for that reason 'Naritaya,' and the actors perform misogi (a ritual purification associated with Fudo) at the Shinshoji waterfall.

Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art

Arendie and Henk Herwig, Heroes of the Kabuki Stage, 2004, pp. 320-322 (on the play)
Claremont Digital Libraries (, from the Ruth Changler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, accession no. 2004.1.11 (for comparison with a print of a similar subject by Chikanobu)

About Toyohara Kunichika