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Prints of Danjuro VII 1819-1838

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Ichikawa Danjuro VII

This print was issued commercially in the autumn of 1831. It is laden with visual and textual information for the viewer to process. The following notes indicate some of the ways in which this print would have been read when first offered for sale.

Inscriptions and marks

Migawari mo
kore de sando ya
Shimosa guri

Here I am, for the third time,
with a changed appearance,


The snow-covered pine branches (matsu) were meant not only to recall the characters name, _Matsuo_maru, but alsothrough their literary associationsto emphasise his tragic fate and heroic nature (his triplet brothers were named after the plum, _Umeo_maru, and cherry, _Sakura_maru). In this print, Kunisada chose to depart from stage convention and depict the hero in a heavy overcoat decorated with roused dragons, beasts associated with great strength and nobility. The dragons serve to amplify the force of Danjuros VIIs pose and reflect the dreadful conflict of emotions within his loyal heart.

Although he is in the employ of the villain of the piece, Matsuomaru remains loyal to his true lord, Kan Shojo. The villain ordered the murder of Kan Shojos young son and heir, Kan Shusai. He commanded Matsuomaro to accompany the party of officers sent to capture and kill the boy because he was the only person in his retinue who could identify the boy with certainty. Matsuomaru contrived to have his own son killed in place of Kan Shusai. His son is murdered off stage; it takes all his will to retain his composure at the muffled sound of the deathblow. His sons severed head is then brought on stage in a box and laid before him. He opens the box, gazes on his sons head, and with complete self-control announces, Ah, that he has beheaded Kan Shusai.there can be no doubt, no question.

Kunisada has depicted Danjuro as Matsuomaru at this dreadful moment. We see the actor portraying Matsuomarus pain as he is caught between his personal, paternal feelings and the merciless demands made by the code of loyalty that bound him to his lord. His excruciating inner struggle is expressed by the way the actor clenches his fist, grits his teeth and crosses his eyes. The hero must, without hesitation, fulfil his obligations to his lord no matter what the personal cost. This grim scene is regarded as one of the weightiest in all Kabuki for male-role actors.


Ichikawa Ebizo V (formerly Danjuro VII) as Fuwa Banzaemon (right) and Onoe Kikugoro III as Nagoya Sanza (left) in Nagoya obi kumo ni inazuma (A Nagoya rope sash and robes with lightning bolts amidst clouds) performed at the Morita Theatre in 09/1836

Private collection

This pair of portraits commemorates a revival (with a different name) of the play that brought Danjuro VII (now acting as Ebizo V) and Kikugoro III together in these highly successful roles. The well-known rivalry between the two actors added spice to their confrontation in this famous ‘Scabbards clashing’ (Saya-ate) scene in the third act, which had featured in prints associated with earlier productions. Fuwa Banzaemon carries a sword named ‘Thunder’ and wears a kimono decorated with a pattern of ‘lightning-in-the-clouds’.

His rival Nagoya Sanza carries a sword named ‘Amorous Swallows’ and wears a kimono with a ‘swallows-in-the-rain’ pattern tied with a sash of knitted rope. Unaware of each other, they make simultaneous entrances boasting of their fame, along the two raised passageways (hanamichi) that run through the audience to the main stage. As they pass on the main stage, which represents Nakano Street in the Yoshiwara pleasure district at cherry blossom time, their sword hilts clash. They exchange insults, remove their green sedge travelling-hats, recognize one another and draw swords to fight over the courtesan Katsuragi, whom they both love.

Above the actors’ heads are hokku poems (haiku) written by the actors themselves. Danjuro’s poem is signed with his poetry name Hakuen. It alludes to his repeated appearances in this role and to the lightning-in-the-clouds pattern on his robe, as well as to the date of this performance in the ninth month.

Bolts of lightning Inazuma mo appear countless times kazu o kasanete in the ninth month! kugatsu kana.

Kikugoro’s poem is signed with his poetry name Baiko. As well as alluding to the swallows-in the-rain pattern on his robes, the poem suggests a comparison between the action in this scene when the actors pass each other on stage, and geese and swallows flying past each other as one arrives and the other departs in the autumn, the season of this performance:

Passing by each other Yuki-chigau wild geese and swallows kari ni tsubame ya over ripened pampas grass. hanasusuki.


Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Kozaru no Hiyoshi in Saruwaka hisago no gumbai (Saruwaka’s gourd-crested battle fan) performed at the Nakamura Theatre in 11/1820 Kunisada 18

Private collection

From an untitled set of half-length portraits on a pink ground, linked to the same performance.


Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Soga no Goro c. 1823 Kunisada 22 Private collection

From the set of nine designs entitled Tosei oshi-e hagoita atari kyogen no uchii (Modern cloth-picture battledores stage hits). Danjuro VII is depicted as Soga no Goro in Yanone (The arrow-sharpener), one of the popular plays based on the story of the revenge of the Soga brothers on their father’s murderer, Suketsune. This virtuoso role was performed in the most extravagant ‘rough stuff’ (aragoto) style of acting developed by the Danjuro lineage of actors.

It allowed Danjuro VII to display his mastery in the portrayal of swash-buckling heroes. The striking face-paint, which is typical of such heroic roles, expresses the intensity of the character’s feelings. In this instance the hero, burning with rage, sharpens a double-tipped arrow with which he and his brother intend to avenge their father’s murder.


Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Kamakura Gongoro in Shibaraku! (Stop Right There!) with Ichikawa Ebizo V (formerly Danjuro VII) in the background as the villain Narita Goro.

Kunisada 5


Private collection

This diptych commemorates the debut of Danjuro VII’s eldest son in the central role of this play. The role is one of the great examples of the ‘rough-stuff’ style (aragoto) for which the Ichikawa line of actors was famous. Danjuro VIII is striking a defiant pose on the raised passageway (hanamichi) leading from the back of the theatre through the audience to the main stage, while his father, playing the role of the villain, looks on from the main stage.

This is the great moment when Narita Goro, on the point of executing the innocent Yoshitsuna and his fiance, is halted by the powerful voice of Gongoro coming from the rear of the theatre shouting ‘Shibaraku! Shibaraku!’ (‘Stop right there!’). The hero then strides onto the hanamichi wearing the most extravagant aragoto costume: a voluminous suo (‘plain sliding-door’) robe, with the Danjuro mon adorning square sleeves so wide that they have to be supported with splints. Laudatory poems fill the space above the figures. This impression, the only known surviving example of this diptych, has faded: the thick cord around Danjuro VIII’s neck was originally bright red, and the thin cord was purple.


Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Fuwa Banzaemon (right), Onoe Kikugoro III as Nagoya Sanza (centre) and Segawa Kikunojo V as the courtesan Katsuragi (left) in Ukiyo-zuka hiyoku no inazuma (Ukiyo’s sword hilt, a double grave mound and the mark of the lightning bolt) performed at the Ichimura theatre in 03/1823

Kunisada 2

Private collection

This famous Saya-ate (‘Scabbards clashing’) confrontation scene occurs in the third act of the play, which was written for these performers and first performed in this production in 1823. The idea derived both from the established Kabuki convention of a Saya-ate scene, and from the 1807 novel by Santo Kyoden, Mukashi banashi inazuma hyoshi (An Old Time Lightning Bolt Tale). Fuwa Banzaemon carries a sword named ‘Thunder’ and wears a kimono decorated with a pattern of ‘lightning-in-the-clouds’. His rival Nagoya Sanzaburo (Sanza for short) carries a sword named ‘Amorous Swallows’ and wears a kimono decorated with a ‘swallows-in-the-rain’ pattern. Unaware of each other, they make simultaneous entrances along the two raised passageways (hanamichi) through the audience. As they pass on the main stage (which represents Nakano Street in the Yoshiwara pleasure district at cherry blossom time), their sword hilts clash. They exchange insults, remove their green sedge travelling-hats, recognize one another and draw swords to fight over the courtesan Katsuragi. Katsuragi rushes forward and persuades them to call a truce.


Natsu no Fuji (Fuji in Summer)

2 volumes with colour prints from woodblock, 1827

Private collection

Volume 2

Kunisada 29

Ichikawa Danjuro VII is shown in his sumptuous residence, seated to the left and holding a folding fan on which he is about to inscribe a poem. Fans that he has already inscribed lie at his side.

On the right the actor Araki Minsho applies Danjuro’s personal seal to the inscribed fans. The manager of the Nakamura theatre, Nakamura Denkuro and an assistant manager, Naritaya Sobei, look on. The painting resting against the back wall is of the actor Matsumoto Koshiro V and carries Kunisada’s signature.

The opulence of the fittings and furnishings in Danjuro’s villa contravened the sumptuary laws. Officials turned a blind eye to his lifestyle until 1842, when charges were brought against him, parts of his residence were razed to the ground, and he was exiled from Edo.

Ichikawa Danjuro VII

Ichikawa Danjuro VII Kunisada 14

Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Sukeroku in Sukeroku yukari no Edo zakura (Sukeroku’s affinity for the cherry blossoms of Edo) performed at the Tamagawa Theatre in 1819; Private collection

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Organised for Japan 2001

The Fitzwilliam Museum is especially grateful to John Carpenter, Tim Clark, Paul M. Griffith, Hideyuki Iwata and Ellis Tinios for their generous help during the preparation of this exhibition.

Funded by Japan 2001