CHAPTER XXIX

ILLUSTRATIONS TO THE "CHUSHINGURA" BY ARTISTS OF THE KATSUKAWA AND UTAGAWA SCHOOLS

EXAMPLES of Chushingura prints by artists of the above sub-schools which have come under observation, have generally been various single sheets only from different sets; complete sets appear difficult to find. A good, and almost complete set (one act only missing) by Katsukawa Shunsen (pupil of Shunyei) is described later in this chapter, and we are able to mention scenes from two different and interesting series by Shunyei.

An occasional Chushingura print by Shunsho has been noted, usually in his familiar hoso-ye form, but do not require particular mention.

The Chushingura scenes by Katsukawa SHUNYEI, here illustrated at Plate 44, Illustrations 2-5, are from a very rare series, medium size, up-right, complete in eleven scenes, which are seldom seen. Many of the plates are distinguished compositions, and are interesting in that they are of a different type to any yet described. The figures are unusually large in proportion to their setting, and constitute the chief element in the design, whereas in all the various series hitherto described and illustrated the figures are set in surroundings such as the scene portrayed might be enacted in, the landscape being as important in the composition (in some instances the best part of the design) as the characters of the play.

Here these characteristics are reversed, the setting being merely intended to help out the scene, the characters themselves partaking more of the nature of figure-studies. From the point of view of drawing, these are far in advance of Hiroshige's illustrations to the Chushingura, which rely on the landscape element and the generally good colour-scheme to counteract the sometimes crudely-drawn figures.

These examples by Shunyei, on the other hand, are more akin to the graceful and reposeful figures of Kiyonaga, Shuncho, or Utamaro, than to the emotional and restless characters usually associated with dramatic representations.

Illustration I, Plate 44., shows Act IV from a set complete in twelve plates, two episodes being given of Act XI, with the title Chushingura; signed Shunyei ; publisher Yeijudo.

This is a very unusual representation of this act, and depicts Yuranosuke before the two commissioners, Ishido Umanojo (left), and Yakushiji Jirozayemon (right), after Yenya's seppuku.

He is here supplicating the two commissioners to spare, if possible, the family and clan of Asano, and to leave them the Castle of Ako. Ishido replies that he will endeavour to influence the authorities at Yedo to do so if possible, but he is overruled by Yakushiji who, throughout the whole proceedings, behaves very truculently and boorishly towards the unfortunate Yenya and his dependants.

Hardly was the last breath out of Yenya's body, than Yakushiji springs to his feet, as if exulting in his death and the misfortune that had thereby fallen upon his family and retainers, and at once orders them out of the castle, bidding the latter turn themselves into ronin without more ado. Ishido, on the other hand, reproves his colleague for his too-hasty words and informs Yuranosuke that there is no intention of driving them at once out of the castle, at the same time adding that his services are gladly put at his disposal should he require any assistance.

Shunyei has cleverly delineated in their features the very different characters of the two commissioners.

In the drama, the ronin band together to avenge Yenya's death, in obedience to his dying injunction to Yuranosuke; actually Asano's chief steward was not present at any time during his lord's seppuku. He took upon himself to avenge his death, owing to his failure to influence the Government at Yedo to cancel their orders that unless Asano's castle and lands were surrendered, the whole clan and family would be exterminated.

Kuranosuke, thereupon, seeing it would be impossible for their small numbers to defend their lord's castle and possessions against his enemies, banded his retainers together to seek death by their own hands, after slaying their enemy Kira Kozuke. Originally sixty-three signified their willingness to "follow their lord upon the dark path" (an euphemism for death), giving their assent thereto in the most solemn manner by smearing the document with their own blood, but during the interval of a year which elapsed before they could put their resolve into execution, their number had dwindled down to forty-seven.

The late Lord Redesdale in his Tales gives a translation of a document, a copy of which was found upon each of the forty-seven ronin, explanatory of their conduct and the reasons therefor. This is not the same document as that referred to above, as it was drawn up only on the day they made their attack on Kira Kozuke and signed by Kuranosuke and the other forty-six. Its object, of course, was to clear their character after death, and to show the world at large that they were no common murderers.

The following six plates from the medium-size, upright set by Shunyei (size 10¼ x 7¾ in.), mentioned above, have come under observation; publisher Yeijudo.

The predominating colours are subdued tints of tan and olive-green, while masses of black are introduced with very effective results.

Act III. Kampei threatening the prostrate Bannai with his sword, while Okaru revenges herself upon him by pinching his cheek. In the background the moat round the Castle and a corner of the battlements.

Act IV. Rikiya offering his condolences to Lady Kawoyo, who is attended by a maid-of-honour. (Reproduced at Plate 7 of sale catalogue, Sotheby, May 31, 1920.)

Act VII. Scene at the Ichiriki tea-house, Kyoto. Yuranosuke standing at the foot of the ladder, while Okaru descends it from the balcony above, after he had detected her reading the letter he had just received from Lady Kawoyo. Underneath the veranda is the spy Kudayu watching him.

The crepe-like effect (found also on prints by Shunzan and Utamaro) given to Okaru's dress should be noted in this print.

Act VIII. The Bridal Journey along the seashore at Tago. A woman stoops to fasten Konami's sandal, while Tonase turns to speak to her daughter. A very graceful composition.

Act IX. Tonase and Konami arrive at Yuranosuke's house at Yamashima, and are received by one of the servants. A charming plate. Tonase's black dress and Konami's black obi form an effective contrast to the snowy landscape in the background.

Act X. Gihei handing back to his wife, 0-Sono, who kneels at his feet, the letter of divorce which she had brought back to him, when entreating that she might be allowed to return. On the left, a boy-servant, Igo by name, who had admitted her to the house, pokes his head through the curtain and makes fun at her.

With regard to Chushingura sets by Toyokuni, much the same applies to him as the remarks above concerning Shunsho. Judging from the various odd single sheets that have been noted, Toyokuni appears to have designed several Chushingura sets at different periods of his career, including a very uncommon pentaptych which depicts all the eleven acts in one picture, but complete sets are rare.

At Plate 45 we reproduce this pentaptych, some of the scenes in which are treated in an unusual manner.

Title on large, upright yellow label on right-hand sheet, "Shimpan ('New Edition') Chushingura, Eleven Scenes"; each sheet full size, upright; signed on large yellow label on bottom corner, left-hand sheet, Toyokuni fude; name and address of the publisher, Yeijudo.

Sheet I (right hand).

Acts I and II. The quarrel between Wakasa and Moronao, Yenya intervening, and Lady Kawoyo standing behind.

Below (II): Honzo riding off at midnight, after hearing from Wakasa of his intention to kill Moronao on the morrow, to bribe Moronao and so avert the quarrel. An unusual treatment of this scene.

(Bidding Honzo good night Wakasa then withdrew. For a few moments Honzo gazed after his lord wistfully; then rousing himself, he bent his steps hastily in the direction of the servants' quarters.

"Ho, there," he cried in a loud voice, "saddle a horse for me, quick."

The order was obeyed without delay, and Honzo at once swung himself into the saddle.

"Follow me, I go to the mansion of Moronao."

As he spoke, Tonase and Konami came out of an apartment, and hurrying up to him, hung upon his bridle, exclaiming, "Where are you going? We have overheard everything. How, Honzo! You an old man, and yet you do not endeavour to moderate our lord's anger by your wisdom - what can this mean? Stay, stay!

"Silence, both of you," cried Honzo, angrily. "Our lord's life the - existence of his house - are at stake. Mind you do not utter a word about my departure to your master. If you betray me, you, daughter, shall be turned out of my family, and you, Tonase, shall be divorced. Ho, there! (to the servants) I will give you your orders on the way."

Tonase and Konami uttered an exclamation of alarm.

"You are too importunate," repeated Honzo, sharply. "Delay not (to the servants), but follow me." So saying, he hastily rode off.... Tonase and her daughter immediately afterwards betook themselves with heavy hearts to the inner apartments.) [1]

The above is the episode here illustrated.

Sheet 2. Acts III and IV.

Below (III): The discomfiture of Bannai by Kampei.

Above (IV): Yenya before the two commissioners, one of whom reads out the sentence of the court against him. An unusual treatment of this act.

Sheet 3. Acts V and VII.

Below (V): The robber Sadakuro, with Yoichibei's purse in his mouth, wiping his sword on the palm of his hand after murdering the old man, whose lantern and hat lie on the ground.

Above (VII): Heiyemon dragging out the spy Kudayu from under the engawa at the Ichiriki tea-house; Yuranosuke and Okaru looking on.

Sheet 4. Acts VI, VIII, and IX.

Below (VI): Kampei being upbraided by his wife's mother for the death of Yoichibei, while Goyemon and Yagoro join in the accusation.

Centre (VIII): The Bridal Journey.

Above (IX): The death of Honzo who holds in his right hand the plan of Moronao's castle; behind him is Konami, and squatting on the ground Rikiya.

At the top corner of the adjoining sheet (No. 3) is 0-Ishi carrying the white-wood stand on which she demands Honzo's head of Tonase.

Sheet 5. Acts X and XI.

Above (X): Gihei's house. Outside is his wife, 0-Sono, seeking admission, while inside Gihei politely intimates in a forcible manner that the presence of Ryochiku is very distasteful to him. An unusual treatment of this act.

Below (XI): Yuranosuke, with Rikiya and the other ronin, arrives outside the gate of Moronao's castle, prepared to exact vengeance.

One of the best series of Chushingura scenes by Toyokuni in the usual oblong form, which have come under observation, is an early set (c. 1790), which is represented in the British Museum collection by Act IX.

The title Ukiye Chushingura ("Perspective Chushingura Pictures") is on a panel at the side (like Hokusai's early set, signed Kako), and has a broad band of pink cloud across the picture above. Publisher Idzumi-ya Ichibei (Senichi). Both in drawing and colouring this set is distinctly superior to many of his later series, which are at times somewhat crude in both respects.

Acts II, IV, V, VI, and IX of this set have been noted, which follow the usual treatment of these scenes, two episodes being sometimes shown in the one act.

Thus in Act IV, Lady Kawoyo is receiving the two commissioners, while in another part Yuranosuke is showing Yenya's dirk to his retainers.

Act V. Sadakuro about to attack Yoichibei, and in the centre he is shown trying to escape the charge of the wild boar, hunted by Kampei, by seeking refuge up a pine tree.

Act IX. Honzo appears at the gate of Yuranosuke's house just as Tonase in one room, is about to take her daughter's life; in another is Rikiya and 0-ishi, who carries a wooden stand upon which she demands Honzo's head; and in yet another part of the building Honzo shows his plan of Moronao's castle to Yuranosuke.

All the full-size plates illustrating the Chushingura which we have hitherto described have been of oblong shape; as an example of the treatment in the less common full-size, upright form, we will here mention a series by Toyokuni, complete in six plates, two scenes in one illustration; publisher Moriji.

Plate I . Act I (above) : Moronao giving his love-verses to Lady Kawoyo.

Act II. Wakasa watching Honzo cutting off the pine branch.

Plate 2. Act III (above) : Bannai Sagisaka threatening Kampei, behind whom stands Okaru.

Act IV. Yuranosuke showing Yenya's dirk to Rikiya.

Plate 3. Act V (above) : Sadakuro killing Yoichibei ; black sky indicating nightfall and rain.

Act VI. Okaru being helped to her kago by the tea-house proprietor, and turning to bid her mother farewell.

Plate 4. Act VII (above) : Heiyemon dragging the spy Kudayu from under the veranda, while Yuranosuke looks on.

Act VIII. Honzo on his journey to Yamashima, following in the wake of Tonase and Konami, unknown to them. He carries a sword in his hand and is examining a stone direction-post. This is the most unusual treatment of this act that has hitherto come under observation.

Plate 5. Act IX (lower portion, the order being reversed in this plate) : Honzo reveals himself to 0-ishi (right), and his wife Tonase, at the same time stamping to pieces the wooden stool upon which the former had demanded his head of Tonase.

Act X. Sccne at Gihei's house at Sakai. Interview between Gihei and his father-in-law Ryochiku, just before the arrival of Yuranosuke and his party of ronin, disguised as police to search Gihei's house for arms. A very unusual treatment of this act.

(Ryochiku was a quack doctor, of a mean and parsimonious character, in the service of Moronao as a spy, and a friend of the spy Kudayu. Owing to Gihei's connection with Yuranosuke and his active help in furthering the latter's plans against Moronao, Ryochiku took a violent dislike to him, and endeavoured to annul the marriage of his daughter. Such was the purport of his visit as shown in this act by Toyokuni.

Gihei, however, had sent his wife back to her father's home in order to avoid the possibility of the ronin's secret leaking out to Ryochiku through her, and so eventually reaching the ears of Moronao. The divorce, however, was only intended to be of a temporary nature, until such time as the attack on Moronao had been successfully achieved.)

Plate 6. Act XI (above) : Moronao discovered in his hiding-place in the coal-cellar, and being dragged forth ; Yuranosuke showing him Yenya's dirk and inviting him to commit seppuku therewith, thus showing his enemy the courtesy proper to one of his rank.

Below, one of the ronin engaged in single combat with Kobayashi Heihachi, one of Moronao's bodyguard.

As a final example of Chushingura prints by an artist of the Katsukawa school, we will now describe a good set by Katsukawa SHUNSEN (c. 1790-1820), a pupil of Shunyei, who is better known for his book-illustrations than for his full-size, single-sheet prints, which are not common. This series, which is full size, oblong, has all the characteristics of Ukiye pictures; the band of pink cloud across the top of the design, and the narrow panel at the side with the title thereon, coupled with unusually deep perspective.

Title Ukiye Chushingura ("Perspective Chushingura Pictures"), followcd by the signature in full Katsukawa Shunsen, and the publisher's name, Wakasa-ya Yoichi. Complete in eleven scenes. Predominating colours of pink (beni), apple-green, and yellow.

Act I. Moronao dctaining Lady Kawoyo as she turns to mount the temple steps, and offering her his love-verses; Wakasa watching him from behind a tree.

Act II. Honzo cutting off a pine branch before Wakasa, and behind Konami making obeisance to Rikiya as she offers him tea, while he delivers his message for Wakasa who watches them from behind a screen in a room beyond.

The perspective of the various rooms opening out of one another is very good.

Act III. Scene on the bridge over the moat at the castle of Kamakura. Bannai and his men coming out of the castle and approaching Kampei to arrest him, behind whom stands Okaru getting her scarf ready with which to smother Bannai. In the background a long perspective of the moat and walls of the castle to green hills in the distance. (See Plate 46.)

Act V. Rain-storm near Yamazaki. Sadakuro seizing Yoichibei from behind by his coat; in the background the meeting of Kampei and Yagoro.

Act VI. Arrival of the tea-house proprietor, Ichimonji-ya, from Kyoto at Yoichibei's house, to claim Okaru, at the same time showing Kampei his contract and demanding its fulfilment. Outside, on the left, Yagoro and Goyemon approach in disguise, along a winding path. (See Plate 46.)

Act VII. Yagoro and Goyemon, accompanied by Heiyemon, arrive at the Ichiriki tea-house while Yuranosuke is engaged in playing blindman's-buff with the tea-house girls; in another part of the building he is shown with Lady Kawoyo's letter in his hand, looking up at Okaru in the balcony above, who has been reading it with the aid of a mirror, while Kudayu reads it from under the veranda.

Act VIII. The Bridal Journey. Tonase and Konami, accompanied by a lady attendant, walking along the seashore, followed by their kago bearers. Behind them rises the wooded island of Enoshima and Fuji in the distance.

Act IX. Rikiya attacking Honzo with a long spear just as the latter had overcome 0-ishi's assault and has her helpless on the floor; on the right Tonase and Konami look on at the struggle in dismay, not knowing what to do.

In another room, across the garden which is white with snow, Yuranosuke explains to Honzo his plan of attack on Moronao's castle from the drawing thereof which Honzo had brought with him, and which is spread out on the floor between them.

(The late Lord Redesdale in his Tales relates how he was able to have a private inspection of the relics of the Forty-seven Ronin preserved at Sengakuji Temple, and that amongst them was a plan of Kotsuke-no-Suke's house, which one of them had obtained by marrying the daughter of the builder who designed it.)

Act X. Gihei standing on the chest containing the ronins' arms and armour and defying them to make him reveal its contents. Outside, on a bridge over the canal, two other ronin, Ohowashi Bungo and Yazama Jiutaro, set on 0-Sono and cut off her hair.

Act XI. The attack on Moronao's castle. Scene inside the building with a view of the grounds outside, through which flows a river. A general melee between the ronin and Moronao's retainers, one of whom has climbed up on to a rafter in the roof, but is shot down by a ronin armed with a bow and arrow. In the background, in another room, Moronao is being dragged out of his hiding-place.

At Plate 46, Illustration 3, we give a scene (Act IX) from another Chushingura series by Shunsen for the sake of comparison with the fore-going and for the purpose of identification of other scenes from it which may come under the notice of the reader. It is somewhat smaller than the above set, being medium size, instead of full size, oblong, and the edging of the pink cloud at the top of the picture is treated some-what differently, and affords the readiest method of distinguishing the two series.

The title is the same, namely Ukiye Chushingura, is signed Shunsen only, and the publisher is Senichi.

Act IX. Tonase about to take her daughter's life is interrupted by 0-ishi, just as Honzo appears at the gate. In the background the departure of Yuranosuke watched by Rikiya and Honzo, who expires immediately afterwards from the effects of Rikiya's attack on him previously, and for which Yuranosuke reproaches him as being over-hasty.

(The big snow-ball in the fore-court, which at first sight appears to be only a fancy of the artist, and as of no more importance to the story than a snow-laden tree or garden ornament, actually has a connection with the scene illustrated, and serves to show, as has been noted before in other instances, how particular the artist was to portray faithfully in his picture even the smallest detail of each act.

Yuranosuke, on his return to Yamashima from the tea-house at Kyoto, where he had been detained all night by a heavy fall of snow, starts heaping up the freshly-fallen snow as soon as he gets inside the gate, in an apparently aimless and half-drunk manner.

After this he enters the house and, pretending to go asleep, dismisses his wife and the servants to their quarters.

When left alone with Rikiya, he draws his attention to the mass of snow with which he had been pretending to amuse himself by heaping up, and asks his son if he can guess its significance.

"I think I can," answers Rikiya. "Snow is so light that the least breeze blows it away in dust; but when heaped up into a mass, it may roll down from some mountain-top and crush even rocks like a huge boulder. So is our strength in our united loyalty, in the weight of our affliction. But that mass of snow will soon melt away under the sun's rays, and ..."

"Nay, not so," breaks in Yuranosuke. "We forty-seven plotters are in the sun of no man's favour. In the shade that mass of snow will take long enough to melt. As for us we must persevere like that philosopher Riuto" (a Chinese sage), "whose poetry compelled him, being unable to buy oil for his lamp, to supply his need with the dim light reflected from a heap of snow."

"Let yonder mass," adds he, "be taken into the inner court, where the sun's rays cannot beat upon it.")[2]

Though not an artist of either the Katsukawa or Utagawa schools, it will be convenient to mention here two series of Chushingura illustrations by Keisai YEISEN (1792-1848), both full size, oblong, one (the earlier of the two) of better merit as regards drawing than the other.

This earlier set may be recognized by having the title in very large white characters on a horizontal black label, round which is a tomo-ye border. This label is spread across a conventional cloud which comes half-way down the picture, the illustration of the scene occupying the lower half.

The Bridal Journey scene from this set is illustrated in Strange's Japanese Illustration (London, 1903). The colouring of this set is good, rose-red being much employed, while the figures stand out well from the background.

The scenes mostly follow the usual treatment for each act.

Act VI shows Kampei examining Okaru's contract with the tea-house proprietor, and Act VII is an unusual illustration: Heiyemon is threatening to kill his sister, Okaru, as a spy, while she baulks him by flinging a roll of paper in his face.

Act VIII, the Bridal Journey scene, is perhaps the best one of the set. Konami and Tonase are shown walking by the seashore, and behind them a large Fuji, with snow-covered slopes, rises into a rose-red sky.

Act X is also an unusual treatment, though we have noted others of the same nature. Interior of Gihei's house, and his wife asking him to take her back; on the floor lies his letter of divorce.

For the sake of comparison with Act VIII of the above series illustrated in Strange's Japanese Illustration, we here reproduce at Plate 46, Illustration 4, the same scene from Yeisen's other Chushingura set. This has the title Kanadehon Chushingura ("The Loyal League; a copy for Imitation") on a panel at the side, followed by a very rare form of Yeisen's signature, Ippitsuan Yeisen, hitherto only noted on an occasional surimono by him, and then in the form of a seal; bclow is the publisher's name Kikakudo (or Sanoki).

This set has an unusual border in black upon which is repeated at intervals Yenya's crest of two crossed arrow-feathers instead of the tomo-ye crest of Yuranosuke.

The general colour-scheme is rose-red, blue, and apple-green. The best plate of the set is Act VIII, here illustrated. Unfortunately the beautiful contrasting colours of blue sea, green mountain, and rose-red sky are completely lost in a monochrome reproduction.

The figures in the other plates are rather awkwardly drawn, while the landscape setting is too crowded with detail, so that the figures appear mixed up in it, and the whole picture being strongly coloured, no contrast is afforded between background and foreground.

In this respect the design of the earlier set is much happier.

 

[1] Taken from Dickins' translation of the Chushingura.
[2] Abbreviated from F. V. Dickins' translation of the Chushingura.