Yoshitoshi 芳年: Favorite Kabuki Actors as Toys with Popularity Price Tags 正札附俳優手遊 (SOLD)

  • Sold.

Artist: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)
Title: Favorite Kabuki Actors as Toys with Popularity Price Tags (Shôfuda-tsuki hiiki no omocha) 正札附俳優手遊
Date: 1861

Fascinating early work that shows the strength of the young (21!) Yoshitoshi’s brush for actors-as-other-things portraits, a strength he must have absorbed in some degree from his teacher, Kuniyoshi. Here we see a saleswoman leaning at left towards her customers, a woman and and an excited young boy. They visit an eye-catching exhibition of dolls that bear the visages of famous kabuki actors.  This toy shop displays Kabuki actors’ popularity points as price tags and rankings; these prices are written next to the various masks, animals, and puppets that relate to each actor’s famous roles. Each price tag has the name of the actor and the price in the  monetary unit of “ryô 両”, the highest as one thousand. The rating is mentioned on the top of  the tag in “kichi 吉”, meaning good luck or happy fortune, differentiating with the terms like highest, high, etc. Each toy both reflects the role of the actor as well as expressions that go with each role, and the visages match the characters of toys with hilarious accuracy. This is a very scarce design, so although ranking of kabuki actors (via hyôbanki publications) had taken place since the 17th century, perhaps this was considered a step too far by kabuki fans, and the public appreciation for the design was less than stellar. In general, rankings of kabuki actors had begun at “middle”中, and rose to “Great exceedingly upper-upper-excellent” Dai-shigoku-jō-jō-kichi (大至極上々吉).

What follows is a listing of the toys with their tags:

With the price of 1000 ryô, there are the following six actors:  We see at far left Bando Kamezô I 坂東亀蔵 as the long head of Fukurokuju, one of the Seven Lucky Gods. Also on the leftmost sheet is Ichikawa Danzô VI 市川 團蔵 as the other large head, which bears a look of dismay. Below them is Onoe Kikugorô II尾上 菊五郎 as the seated cat, looking somehow coquettish even though it is both a toy and a cat. In the center sheet as the figure with a white headband is Bandô Hikosaburô V坂東 彦三郎 as a mask. To his right is Nakamura Shikan IV中村 芝翫 as the mask with the red kumadori makeup and beard. The last of the highest-priced actors is Ichikawa Kodanji IV市川 小團次 as the large red Daruma doll at right. It is a wonderful conceit, as Daruma is a terrific role in a kabuki play, and the Japanese of course have their Daruma dolls as part of their New Year’s tradition. 

The next group of actors has a price of 980 ryô. There is Ichikawa Ichizô III市川 市蔵 on the left sheet as the white fox mask (also a famous character in kabuki). Also on the left sheet is Ichikawa Uzaemon XIII市川 羽左衛門 as the mask with red kumadori makeup and with hair. In the center sheet is Sawamura Tosshô II澤村 訥升, who has what seems to be “moth eyebrows” on his mask-visage. Also center is  Iwai Shijaku = Iwai Hanshirô XVIII 岩井 紫若=岩井 半四郎  as the seated rabbit, who seems to have a type of bobble-head mechanism.  On the left sheet is Sawamura Tanosuke III澤村 田之助 as a type of toy that is concealed behind the saleswoman who kneels at left. The last actor rated 980 ryô is Seki Sanjûrô III関 三十郎, who is the oni devil mask with the horns and blue makeup at left.

The only actor rated 960 ryô is Kawarazaki Gonjûrô I河原崎 権十郎, the mask that has the red kumadori makeup and the distinctive hairstyle in the center sheet.

At 900 ryô is Ichikawa Shinsha I市川 新車 in the center sheet, who is the standing puppet of a young boy, unclothed. At the same price is Nakamura Tsuruzô I中村 鶴蔵 as the toy of a large sea bream, face frozen in a grimace.

At 880 ryô is Nakamura Kamenojô I 中村 歌女之烝 as the seated doll on the leftmost sheet, wearing an orange kimono. At the same price is Ichikawa Kuzô III市川 九蔵, as the seated white dog in the front row whose expression perfectly matches the mien of the dog. Also at this price is Bandô Tamasaburô II坂東 玉三郎 as the hanging seagull that is suspended from the ceiling.

At 780 ryô is Nakamura Kantarô I中村 翫太郎 in the center sheet, in the character of an old woman who seems to be carrying a giant mushroom on her back. At 700 ryô is Nakayama Genjûrô II中山 現十郎 as the duck with wheels. At 680 ryô is Arashi Kangorô II嵐 冠五郎 as the doll on the right sheet who is a naked man with a  moveable head. At 660 is Matsumoto Kunigorô 松本 国五郎 as the cat toy at lower right. Also at 660 is Seki Utasuke I関 哥助 as the hanging doll of a man wearing a black haori coat. At 650 is Arashi Kichiroku嵐 吉六 as the seated old woman wearing a black haori coat in the front row. At 600 is Ichikawa Yonegorô市川 米五郎 as the man in the center sheet who is a hanging doll with a hangdog look who wears a green coat and blue pants. Also priced at 600 is Ichikawa Kohanji I市川 小半次 as the owl toy with the writing “Kohanji” on its belly. Also at 600 is Nakamura Ganpachi中村 雁八 as the black tortoise that hangs from the ceiling. Finally, there is Bandô Muraemon I In Role of Young Man坂東 村右衛門 in seated fukusuke in the front row. (With thanks to Michiko Sato-Grube for her translation assistance.)

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition.
Dimensions: ôban triptych (each sheet 36.5 x 24.5 cm)
Publisher: Shôbun-dô 正文堂

Literature: Keyes number 42. See British Museum for inferior example from Hillier collection. The MFA only has the center sheet.

Signature: Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi ga