Kunisada: Minister Kibi’s Adventure in China with Go Board and Ghost

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864)
Title: Minister Kibi’s Adventure in China with Go Board and Ghost
Date: 1852

We see the Japanese minister Kibi seated far right, wearing Japanese robes and looking confident as he plays a go game with the Chinese go master Gento, who wears Chinese-ish garments and looks quite concerned at how the game is going. The setting of this story is Tang Dynasty China (618-907), when Japan dispatched Minister Kibi (693-775) 吉備大臣 (the rightmost figure in the print) to China. When he arrived, the Chinese nobles and intellectuals wanted to test his intelligence and wisdom. Minister Kibi had to accomplish three tasks: write an exegesis of voluminous Chinese anthology; win a Go-game;  and comment on a sophisticated and difficult poem. He managed to pass all with the help of Japanese deities and apparitions.

The triptych depicts the scene of the Go-game of his second task, which took place in a tower of the imperial palace. Minister Kibi is facing master of Go, Gen-to 呉大将玄東, seated in the middle sheet. 

The night before the tests, the ghost of Abe-no-Nakamaro 阿部仲麻呂 appeared to Minister Kibi and told him his own sad tale–that he had also been also dispatched to China as the  kento-shi diplomat and was tested,  but he was left to starve to death. The ghost asks about his own family and descendants, and Minister Kibi informed him of them. Then the Ghost promised him to help at the three tests. He taught Kibi the basics of the Go-game since the game was unknown to Kibi. Behind the scene of the match we see the ghost Abe-no-Nakamaro giving advice to help Kibi to win. It is said that Minister Kibi swallowed one black Go stone so that he could win. The wife of the master of Go, Koshojo, is seen in a gesture of surprise and shock at the fact that Kibi is winning the match.

The actors are Onoe Baiko IV as Gento’s wife Koshojo; Ichikawa Kodanji IV as the Ghost of Abe no Nakamaro; Morita Kanya XI as the Chinese Minister Gento and  Bando Hikosaburo IV as Minister Kibi. The actors are performing at the Nakamura Theatre (Nakamura-za) in the play The Golden Crow, the Jade Rabbit, and the Ship that Arrives from Japan (Kin'u gyokuto wakoku no irifune). This is a rather scarce design for some reason.

Condition: Excellent impression; very good color and condition. Some trimming. Unbacked.
Dimensions: ôban triptych (35.5 x 73.5 cm)
Signature: Toyokuni ga
Publisher: Moriya Jihei

Literature: See MFA Boston for their example (in inferior condition).