Hiroshige III: The Hisamatsu-za (Meiji-za) Kabuki Theater in Prosperity (Sold)

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Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige III (1843-1894)
Title: Theater in Hisamatsu-chó: Picture of Hisamatsu-za in Prosperity (Hisamatsu-chó gekijó Hisamatsu-za han-ei-no-zu)久松町劇場久松座繁栄図. 
Date: 1878

Theater in Hisamatsu-cho: Picture of Hisamatsu-za in Prosperity (Hisamatsu-chó gekijó Hisamatsu-za han-ei-no-zu)久松町劇場久松座繁栄図. Detailed view of the bustling main street Kawa-dóri川通 in the district Hisamatsu-cho in Tokyo. In the center we see the impressive building of  the theater Hisamatsu-za, flanked on both sides by tea houses. It is very interesting to see Hiroshige III‘s detailed portraits of residents on the street. We see many combinations of old and modern clothing; Japanese and foreign hairstyles; and fashionable western items like umbrellas and handbags. Modern vehicles, jinrikisha (rickshaw) are threading their way through the crowded Kawa-dori.The scene is of the rapidly modernizing life of Tokyo during the first decade of Meiji Period (1868-1912).

The name Hisamatsuis said to originate from the village name, Muramatsu 村松, from which later a part was named Hisamatsu, combining a lucky expression of hisa , long life and matsu , a pine tree. The crest of hisamatsu is composed with three pine branches in a circle, as we can see on the title of this print as well as on the noren curtains of the theater entrances and on the flag hoisted on a pole in front of the theater. We can also see this crest on the shoulders of many of the men in the crowd; they seem to be delivering food, probably from local restaurants, and one at lower right seems to be inviting a stylish couple to visit the theater. We may surmise that they are in the employ of the theater. 

The Hisamatsu-za is the forerunner of Meiji-za明治座, which is still in existence in Tokyo. In the 1850s it started in Ryogoku area in a small cottage and was called Kisho-za 喜昇座. In 1872 as the Meiji government allowed the number of theaters to increase from three to ten, the Kisho-za moved to Hisamatsu-cho the following year and became one of the ten theaters in Tokyo. The building was reconstructed in 1879 and the name was changed to the Hisamatsu-za久松座, which burned down in 1880. Five years later the new building was constructed and started as the Chitose-za千歳座, which was again burned down in 1890. Three years later the Kabuki actor Ichikawa Sadanji I 初代市川左団次bought the Chitose-za and rebuilt and named the Meiji-za in 1893.

The architecture of the building shows the mixture of temple-like front terrace decorated with the heads of guardian lion-like komainu on tops of the both pillars, and branches of pine in the center, which aspire for the long life of the theater. The western style terrace on the roof attracts the people for views from above, which was an uncommon feature of architecture during the period. Above the main entrance in the center the sign of Hisamatsu-za久松座. Two large billboards advertise the program of the theater.

Kawa-dori 川通is written on four paper lanterns on the eaves and two green gas street lamps in front of the theater.

The tea houses along the street have a close connection with the activities of  the theaters. They serve as restaurants and meeting places of theatergoers as well as places for arranging to purchase theater tickets for regular customers, (though one can always buy ticket at the ticket office of a theater.) The tea houses of this picture carry the signboards of Hashimoto 橋本 and Morimoto森本, on the left side of the theater and Owari-ya 尾張屋and Izumi-ya 和泉屋on the right. Many menus are written on the papers we see hanging down throughout the establishments.

We can see two kinds of flags: the new flag of Japan, hinomaru, and another on the roof of the theater, with one red line in the center. The flag on the pole has the writing "The first theater in Tokyo" (Tokyo dai-ichigó gekijó)東京第一号劇場“ with Hisamatsu crest.

Written in the red square stamp on the left above, the Publisher and artist names and address are mentioned: it says "Andó Tokubei gakó (designed by Andó Tokubei, another name used by Hiroshige III)安藤徳兵衞“.

This is a terrific example of a Kaika-e 開化絵 (picture of Japan–modernizing civilization influenced by the West), done during the first decade following the Meiji Restoration (1868), during which the country willingly accepted and actively imported many aspects of western civilization into their daily lives. (With thanks to Michiko Sato-Grube for her above research.)

Dimensions: 36.5 x 75 cm
Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Untrimmed and unbacked. Some wrinkling. 
Publisher: Fukada Komajiro
Signature:  Oju (By request) Hiroshige ga