Comic and Miscellaneous Triptychs and Diptychs,

Part I


Kuniyoshi - (triptych) The Famous & Unrivalled Hidari Jingorô (Meiyo migi ni teki nashi Hidari Jingorô), the left-handed sculptor surrounded by his many creations, 1847-8, pub

Title: The Famous and Unrivalled Hidari Jingorô (Meiyo migi ni teki nashi Hidari Jingorô, 名誉右に無敵左り甚五郎)

Description: The left-handed sculptor surrounded by his many creations

Date: 1847-1850 (censors Mera and Murata)

Publisher: Ebisu-ya Shôshichi

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Asahina's Travel to the Island of Dwarfs (Asahina kobito jima asobi), 1846-48, pub

Title: Asahina’s Travel to the Island of Dwarfs (Asahina kobito jima asobi, 朝比奈小人嶋遊)

Description: Ashima is reclining and watching a daimyo’s parade passing by

Date: 1846-1848

Publisher: Horimasa

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) The Votive Tablet with Masks of Kabuki Actors Taken at Face Value (Ataru hônô negai o gakumen), 1848-9, pub

Title: The Votive Tablet with Masks of Kabuki Actors Taken at Face Value (Ataru hônô negai o gakumen)

Description: Thirty masks with disguised portraits of the following actors represented in a framed votive painting being offered at a Shinto shrine: 

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) The Votive Tablet with Masks of Kabuki Actors Taken at Face Value (Ataru hônô negai o gakumen), 1848-9, pub

1.  Nakamura Utaemon IV

2.  Matsumoto Kôshirô VI
Ôtani Tomoemon IV
4.  Ichimura Uzaemon XII
5.  Ichikawa Kodanji IV
6.  Sakata Sajûrô II

7.  Bandô Hikosaburô IV
8.  Onoe Tamizô II
9.  Nakayama Bungorô II
10.  Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII
11.  Ichikawa Kuzô II
12.  Bandô Mitsugorô IV
13.  Ôtani Hiroemon V
14.  Onoe Kikjirô II
15.  Ichikawa Hirogorô
16.  Seki Sanjûrô III
17.  Onoe Matsusuke III
18.  Nakayama Ichizô
19.  Onoe Baikô IV
20.  Nakamura Gennosuke II
21.  Osagawa Tsuneyo IV
22.  Sawamura Sôjûrô V
23.  Iwai Kumesaburô III
24.  Nakamura Tsuruzô
25.  Bandô Shûka I
26.  Kataoka Toragorô
27.  Seki Utasuke
28.  Ichikawa Hakoemon
29.  Ichikawa Shinsha
30.  Nakamura Kantarô

Date: 1848-1849

Publisher: Ebisu-ya Shôshichi

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Fish Showing Performances in the Dragon's Palace (Ryûgû asobi sakana gei zukushi), 1847-8, pub

Title: Fish Showing Performances in the Dragon’s Palace (Ryûgû asobi sakana gei zukushi)

Description: Urashima Tarô and Princess Otohime, seated on a big cushion in the centre of the triptych, are drinking sake while watching the performances of various fish and sea dwellers from the dragon king palace. A whale appearing on the lower half of the triptych sends up gigantic spouts of water from his blowhole situated at the top of its head.  Following animals are performing their special talents (from right to left):
1: eel (unagi) climbing a wooden column, puffer fish (fugu) drumming on its belly as if it were a drum, sea bream (tai) sounding the trumpet, two prawns (tenagaebi) fighting with their outstretched claws, a sewing stingray (akaei), a catfish (namazu) twirling his beard, the octopus (tako) is playing with the fan, the samisen and the bell in his various arms. 
2: Urashima and Otohime sitting on a cushion, a tortoise (kame) balancing a sake barrel, a crab (kani) is using its scissor like claws for paper cutting. 
3: croaker (ishimochi) is demonstrating his power by lifting a stone with only one arm, sepia (ika) performing a tightrope dance, monkfish (ankô) dangling on the sepia’s rope, loach (dojô) performing a popular dance, rockfish (mebaru) demonstrating his power by lifting a sinker with his eyes.

Date: 1847-1848

Publisher: Kazusa-ya Iwazô

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Strange & Wonderous Immortal Turtles, c

Title: Strange and Wondrous Immortal Turtles (Kiki myômyô, 亀喜妙々)

Description: Turtles heading for a sake cup in between to rocks.  The red sake cup bears the character kotobuki.  The image title Kiki myômyô (亀喜妙々) is a pun that could be read as "strange, strange" or as “dangerous, dangerous”.  Kuniyoshi ironically refers to the ban on actor portraits since the turtle’s Sino-Japanese reading KI is identical with that of the character for "dangerous" (abunai).  Not only the distinctive facial features, but also the patterns and characters concealed on the tortoise shell reveal the identities of the following actors:

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Strange and Wondrous Immortal Turtles (Kiki myômyô), c

1. Ôtani Hiroemon (tani)
2.  Nakayama Genjurô (nakayama)
3.  Ichikawa Hirogorô
4.  Ôtani Tomoemon IV (tani)
5.  Nakamura Utaemon IV (plum blossom family crest)
6.  Ichikawa Kuzô II (ku; the Ichikawa family crest a triple rice-measure (mimasu)
7.  Bandô Shûka (dai)
8.  Onoe Tamizô II (ta, mi)
9.  Unidentified

10.  Matsumoto Kôshirô IV (matsu ,moto)
11.  Nakayama Bungorô
12.  Ichikawa Kodanji IV (mimasu crest)
13.  Ichimura Uzaemon XII (kanzesui)
14.  Onoe Baikô IV (BAI, ume, plum)
15,  Nakamura Tsuruzô (tsuru, crane)
16.  Ichikawa Hakoemon (hachi,ko)
17.  Iwai Kumesaburô III (ku, me)
18.  Bandô Mitsugorô IV
19.  Sawamura Sôjûrô V (kanzesui, water spiral pattern)
20.  Seki Sanjûrô III (sanjū)
21.  Onoe Kikujirô II (kiku, chrysanthemum)
22.  Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII (mimasu crest)
23.  Bandô Hikosaburô IV (kujibishi lozenge pattern)

Date: 1847-1850 (censors Mera and Murata)

Publisher: Nomura Tokubei

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Buddha's 16 Deciples with Actor's Expressions, 1852

Title: Theatrical Parody of the Sixteen Ahrats (Mitate jûroku rakan, 美達住楼久楽翫)

Description: The title of the triptych Mitate jûroku rakan (Theatrical Parody of the Sixteen Ahrats) is a pun on words alluding to the beautiful men who are staying in the brothels forever. The triptych illustrates 29 densely packed figures consisting of Buddha’s disciples (arhat, rakan), apprentices (dôji) and various foreign looking animals personifying famous actors. The most celebrated actors are depicted with a nimbus indicating their status as Buddha’s disciples. Usually there are 16 disciples but in this depiction only 15 appear. The famous kabuki star Ichikawa Kuzô II is missing his nimbus which was probably unintended. The majority of the portrayed actors are displayed as Asians with curly, brown hair and a beard. Hairstyle, garment and figure of the impersonators of female roles (onnagata) are illustrated in distinctively western style. Kuniyoshi who was keen on all things foreign depicted Buddha’s disciples as the following actors:

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Parody of Buddha's 16 Disciples [with Actor's Expressions] (Mitate jûroku rakan) , 1852(key)

1. Ichikawa Ebijûrô IV
2. Unknown
3. Bandô Mitsugorô IV (also named Morita Kanya XI)
4. Sawamura Sôjûrô V
5. Bandô Sajûrô
6. Ichikawa Kuzô II
7. Onoe Baikô IV
8. Bandô Takesaburô (probably)
9. Nakayama Ichizô
10. Ichikawa Ebizô V
11. Arashi Kichisaburô III
12. Unknown
13. Seki Sanjûrô III
14. Ichikawa Hirogorô
15. Nakamura Tsuruzô / Arashi Isaburô
16. Unknown
17. Bandō Shûka
18. Bandô Hikosaburô IV
19. Onoe Shinshichi III
20. Ichikawa Kodanji IV
21. Nakamura Kantarô (probably)
22. Arashi Otohachi (probably)
23. Iwai Kumesaburô III
24. Nakayama Bungorô III
25. Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII
26. Ôtani Tomoemon IV
27. Onoe Kikujirô II
28. Arashi Rikan III
29. Ichimura Uzaemon XIII (the later Onoe Kikugorô V)

Date: 1849-1851 (censors Fuku and Muramatsu)

Publisher: Sumiyoshi-ya Masagorô

Title: Popular Ôtsu-e for the Times: A Long-Awaited Rarity (Toki ni au Ôtsu-e kitai no maremono, 梳行逢都繪代稀物)

Description: The artist Ukiyo Matabei surrounded by Ôtsu-e characters that have come to life to protect him.  Ukiyo Matabei’s face is hidden by a sheet of paper from which the Ôtsu-e have escaped but the paulownia crest (yoshikiri) on the fan in the artist’s hand and the presence of a cat reveals that Matabei is the feline lover Kuniyoshi himself. The Ôtsu-e figures dancing around the artist are disguised portraits of the following actors:

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Precious pictures of fashionable Ôtsu-e and ukiyo-e come together (Toki ni au Ôtsu-e kitai no maremono), 1847-52

1. Ichikawa Kodanji IV: kaminari - thunder god
2. Bandô Hikosaburô IV: monkey with namazu (catfish) and gourd
3. Ichimura Uzaemon XII: takajô - falconer
4. Ichikawa Kuzô II: yarimochi - retainer carrying pike
5. Ôtani Hiroemon V: geihô daikokuten - Daikokuten

6. Iwai Kumesaburô III: Ushiwakamaru - name of Minamoto Yoshitsune
8. Nakamura Utaemon IV: oni no nenbutsu - demon
9. Nakayama Bungorô II: sake nomi yakko - servant drinking sake
10. Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII: tsurigane benkei - Benkei with the bell of the Miidera temple
11. Onoe Kikugorô IV: fujimusume - wisteria girl
12. Seki Sanjûrô III: zatô – blind man

Date: 1847-1848 (censors Hama and Kinugasa)

Publisher: Minato-ya Kohei


Title: Battle of the Shogi Pieces: Prosperity and Peace across the Board (Koma kurabe banjô taiheiki, 駒くらべ盤上太平棋)

Description: Pieces from Shogi (a game like chess) are fighting

Date: 7th month of 1843

Publisher: Gusoku-ya Kahei

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) The Sparrow's Yoshiwara (Sato Suzume negura no Kariyado), 1846

Title: The Yoshiwara Sparrows’ Temporary Nest (Sato suzume negura no kariyado, 里すずめ寝ぐら仮有)

Description: A crowd of personified male and female sparrows looking through the latticework is depicted on the street in the foreground. Sparrows as courtesans adorned in extravagant robes are sitting in a room projected toward the street surrounded by latticework while awaiting their prospective customers. A few sparrows in the foreground are carrying baskets and little tables.

Date: 5th month of 1846

Publisher: Kita-ya Magobei


NOTE: In 1845, a fire destroyed the brothels of the Yoshiwara, forcing the courtesans to move to a temporary location, which this triptych illustrates.  Since prints showing courtesans were banned by the “Tenpô reforms”, the courtesans are depicted as sparrows.

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) The Foxes' Wedding, 1839-42

Title: The Foxes’ Wedding (Kitsune no yomeiri no zu)

Description: The red torii of the Inari Shrine on the far right is the starting point of a foxes’ wedding procession passing through a cedars’ alley. The foxes depicted in the centre have fully transformed into human beings while the heads of the figures in the left and right panels still resemble foxes. The animals in front of and behind the procession are entirely foxes.  The term kitsune no yomeiri (fox’s wedding) refers to the occurrence of rain occurring during brilliant sunshine, which is said to occur a fox bride is going through the woods to the house of her fox groom

Date: 1839-1842

Publisher: Eshima

Kuniyoshi - (triptych)  Nozarashi Gosuke disguised as the priest Ikkyu giving sermon at foot of Ikoma-dake in Kawaguchi Province,  1844 , pub

Title: The False Ikkyû Preaching to the Bill Collectors (Nise no Ikkyû oshô seppô no zu, 偽一休和尚説法之図)

Description: Nozarashi Gosuke disguised as the priest Ikkyû giving sermon at foot of Ikoma-dake in Kawaguchi Province.  The sermon is about the terrible agonies suffered by the rich in hell, especially when they fail to forgive debts.  The listeners are crying, and one is crossing out entries on his debt register (center sheet).

Date: 1843-1846

Publisher: Jôshû-ya Kinzô

An alternate state of the above triptych


Title: A Great Doctor Treats Serious Diseases (Kitai na meii nanbyô ryôji, きたいなめい医 難病療治)

Description: The female doctor Kogarashi, daughter of the quack doctor Chikusai (Yabukusushi Chikusai musume meii Kogarashi), sits in the center in front of a floral screen; her four disciples, in black jackets, apply humorous “treatments” to patients.  Thought to be a political satire.

Date: 6th month of 1850

Publisher: Enshû-ya Hikobei


I am grateful to Ward Pieters for information about this print.


A less labor intensive edition of the above design


Title: The Ink Battle (Bokusen no zu, 墨戦之圖)

Description: During the Nara period pouring ink was a favorite pastime at the Imperial court as a narrative scroll from the Tosa school illustrates. Therefore, Kuniyoshi’s print superficially appears to be a copy of the Tosa scroll. However, the person next to the general wearing a kimono with the wave pattern could be the senior councilor Mizuno Tadakuni, while the woman in front of him would be the Shogun’s mistress. A majority of the depicted figures wear a headgear common among courtiers. The hidden message behind this print is that the samurai have become as weak as the court officials, wasting their time with ink battles, which has allowed even women and monks to seize power.

Date: 8th month of 1843

Publisher: San (phonetic pronunciation of )

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Scene of Ink Battle (Tosa emaki mono no utsushi)

Title: Copy of a Scroll Painting of the Tosa School (Tosa e makimono no utsushi, 土佐画巻物之写)

Description: Many figures scurrying about, some fencing with pens, and others mixing ink to go into an inkwell

Date: 10th month of 1860

Publisher: Echigo-ya Kajû

I am grateful to Robert Pryor for this alternate state of the above design.

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) A Picture of the Carpenters of Hida Erecting Pillars (Hida no takumi hashiradate no zu), 1842 (figures labeled)

Title: A Picture of the Carpenters of Hida Erecting Pillars (Hida no takumi hashiradate no zu)

Description: The construction of a kabuki theater with actors in the lower half

Date: 1842

Publisher: Iga-ya Kanemon

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) The Hida Carpenters Erecting Pillars

Another state of the above triptych with the names of the actors removed.  Probably the names were deleted because they would have dated the print. 

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) 1858  The game of throwing money

Title: Flowers of Gold in Full Bloom (Zensei kogane no hana)

Description: A man takes gold coins (koban) from a wooden tray table (sanbô) throwing the money at the fighting crowd.  The scene shown in this print relates to the dream of every customer of the pleasure quarters. Once in a lifetime one wants to own the most expensive, exclusive courtesan (oiran) of all Yoshiwara establishments. If one could afford this huge amount of money, the event was celebrated in public, and the lucky customer would shower the crowd with gold coins.

Date: 12th month of 1858

Publisher: Yamaguchi-ya Tôbei

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) Suikoden, Urashima Tarô, Good spirits (zendama) and evil spirits (akudama) are emerging from Urashima's treasure box (tamatebako), 1843-1847, Image1

Title: Suikoden, Urashima Tarô (水滸伝, 浦島太郎)

Poem: Suikoden

From the abode of devils

108 creatures come forward

Urashima Tarô opens the treasure box

Description: Good spirits (zendama) and evil spirits (akudama) are emerging from Urashima’s treasure box (tamatebako, 玉手箱)

Date: 1842-1846 (censor Fukatsu Ihei)

Publisher: Kita-ya Magobei

Title: Exhibition of a Chrysanthemum with 100 Different Flowers (Hyakushu tsugi wake giku, 百種接分菊)

Description: A large group of people is admiring the colorful blossoms of a huge chrysanthemum tree grafted with many different varieties

Date: 9th month of 1845 (censor Fukatsu Ihei)

Publisher: Izuzen

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) 1847-1852,  Image2

Title: Getting Rid of Sleepiness (Nemuke zamashi)

Description: In the centre of the scene is a group of fighting blind men.  Two barking dogs, a rice seller and two women are watching the fight. The image title Nemuke zamashi (Getting rid of sleepiness) is an illusion to a battle of the blind. With their eyes closed, the blind seem to be sleeping. In this fighting scene the blind are randomly hitting and beating in various directions.  Kuniyoshi seems to be caricaturizing the disconcertment of Edo society.

Date: 1846-1848

Publisher: Sagin


Title: Hyakushô kitsune ni bakasareru zu

Description: A group of eight men are dancing and singing in a rice field at harvest time. The inscription tells the story of a sick man who was driven mad by a fox (kitsune). The eight farm workers taking the form of kitsune are depicted on a rice field close to a village.  The barely clothed workers are singing and dancing while shape-shifting into foxes.  One of the men is embracing a statue of Jizô Bosatsu, the guardian of souls in hell. The two beauties (bijin) depicted on top of a bale of straw are about to transform into foxes. The foxes in the background are taking the shape of women.  A group of people far away is looking with lanterns for the men who have not returned home from their work in the fields.

Date: 1846 (censor Murata)

Publisher: Kyôji (京次)

Kuniyoshi - (triptych) The Rônin warrio of Sakamoto in Ômi Bewitched by the White Fox (Kôshû Sakamoto irie no rôshi byakko ni taburakasaruru zu),  1849, pub

Title: The Rônin warrior of Sakamoto in Ômi Bewitched by the White Fox (Kôshû Sakamoto irie no rôshi byakko ni taburakasaruru zu)


Date: 1849

Publisher: Izutsu-ya Shôkichi

Kuniyoshi - (unsigned)   572-C017, Gôdô shini'e

Title: Gôdô shini’e


Date: 1855



NOTE: This print is unsigned