Kuniyoshi: Ghost Story Diptych from the Higashiyama Storybook (Sold)

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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)
Title: Ghost Diptych of The Higashiyama Storybook
Date: 1851

The play Higashiyama Sakura Zoshi (The Higashiyama Storybook), which was based on real-life events from the early Edo Period, premiered at the Nakamura theater in the 8th month of 1851. Here we see Ichikawa Kodanji IV as the ghost of  Asakura Togo. To the right is also Ichikawa Kodanji IV as the ghost of Asakura Togo and Bando Hikosaburo IV as Orikoshi. The play is about a local mayor named Asakura Togo (the fictional name given to the historical personage Sakura Sogoro, 1597-1645), who appeals directly to the shogun to request tax relief for the starving farmers of his town. He thus bypassed his own crooked governor, Orikoshi Tairyo (the real-life Lord Hotta Kozuke), who  was incensed. As punishment, Asakura and his wife and sons were sentenced to death, and the story claims that Asakura’s vengeful ghost returned to haunt the castle of the evil governor. In this scene there appear to be numerous vengeful ghosts, so perhaps we are able to see several moments of the play condensed into one scene, or perhaps we are witnessing the terror of the guilty Orikoshi, who is seeing numerous ghosts wherever he looks.  The ghost who grasps Orikoshi’s sword is dressed as a woman, so perhaps this is supposed to represent Asakura’s wife. The ghost at left seems to be flying out of a sliding door, and has a creepy, skull-like head. Two ghostly flames are also present, indicating a supernatural presence. Scarce design.

Condition: Very good impression, color and condition. Some repaired binding holes and minor soiling at bottom.
Dimensions: ôban diptych (36.5 x 50.4 cm)
Publisher: Ebi-ya Rinnosuke
Seal: Kiri seal
Signature: Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi ga

Literature: See Japan Times online article, which features this design: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2019/07/23/arts/openings-outside-tokyo/summer-mononoke-specters-ghosts-yokai-edo-culture/