Utagawa Kuniyoshi, A farewell surimono for Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII, a colour woodblock print


British Museum

British Museum

This print marks the occasion of the actor Danjūrō VIII's temporary departure from the Edo stage in 1849 when he travelled to Osaka to visit his father, Danjūrō VII, who had been sent into exile there some seven years earlier under the severe Tempō Reforms.

To honour their idol, Danjūrō VIII, members of two haiku poetry clubs - the Shimba and the Uogashi clubs located in the fish market districts of Edo - banded together and commissioned the large de-luxe-edition print from Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). He chose as his subject a monster carp kite, appropriate to his sponsors and also to the time of year: Boys' Day Festival is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month, when giant carp streamers are flown from poles. A carp ascending a waterfall was also one crest used by the Danjūrō lineage of actors. The design includes a cloth banner painted with a portrait of Shōki, ancient Chinese queller of demons. As a further tribute to the Danjūrō line, Shōki is given the features of the father, while the leaping carp, representing perseverance, may symbolize the son.

Danjūrō VII's acting emblem was a curled lobster, and one of the poets, Taiwa, expresses the wish of all the fishmongers of the Nihombashi that he will return when he writes:

Nibune no
Ebi o machikeri

Waiting for the lobster boat
To come to port

Danjūrō VII was indeed pardoned and returned to his adoring public in Edo later that year.

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  • Title: Utagawa Kuniyoshi, A farewell surimono for Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII, a colour woodblock print
  • Date Created: 1849/1849
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 27.20cm; Width: 55.50cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: woodblock; embossing
  • Subject: actor/actress; kabuki; banner
  • Registration number: 1906,1220,0.1342
  • Production place: Made in Japan
  • Producer: Print artist Kuniyoshi, Utagawa. Inscription by Taiwa. Inscription by Shinba. Inscription by Uogashi
  • Period/culture: Kaei Era
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Morrison, Arthur