Torii Kiyomasu I, The actors ōtani Hiroji and Ichikawa Danzō in an 'armour-tugging' (kusazuri-biki) scene, a woodblock print


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

The Kabuki 'armour-tugging' scene originated in the play about the revenge of the Soga brothers. It involved a struggle between the characters Soga no Gorō (right) and Kobayashi Asahina (left). However, it came to be inserted into other unrelated plays and in the summer of 1717 it was due to be performed 'underwater' in the play 'The Battle of Coxinga' (Kokusenya gassen), at the Ichimura Theatre. A large signboard was painted to hang outside the theatre, showing Hiroji bursting out through the side of the boat to grasp Danzō's armour. In the event, the scene was cancelled, but the signboard painting, now lost, may well have been the inspiration for this print, since the Torii artists were responsible for producing all of the signboards, prints and illustrated programmes for the Kabuki theatres in Edo.

The characteristic acting style of Edo was known as aragoto ('rough stuff'). The lively drawing style of the early Torii artists admirably catches the boisterous energy of the action. A later Japanese critic describes their figures as typically having 'gourd-shaped legs and wriggling worm lines'. The impact of this print is increased by the application by hand of orange lead pigment (tan).


  • Title: Torii Kiyomasu I, The actors ōtani Hiroji and Ichikawa Danzō in an 'armour-tugging' (kusazuri-biki) scene, a woodblock print
  • Date Created: 1717/1717
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 52.50cm; Width: 31.50cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: woodblock; tan-e
  • Subject: actor/actress; kabuki
  • Registration number: 1906,1220,0.18
  • Production place: Published in Edo
  • Producer: Print artist Kiyomasu I, Torii. Published by Sagamiya Yohei
  • Period/culture: Kyoho Era
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Morrison, Arthur

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