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.
Arendie and Henk Herwig, Heroes of the Kabuki Stage, 2004, pp. 320-322 (on the play)
Claremont Digital Libraries (ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu), 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
Japanese, 1835-1900, Japan, based in Japan