Series of Women as Benkei

(Shuzoroi onna Benkei, 縞揃女弁慶)

Publisher: Iba-ya Kyûbei

1844

 

This series of ten prints portrays beautiful women each wearing a kimono with checkered pattern, a pattern associated with the hero Benkei.  Each print has a kyoka poem that refers to an event in Benkei’s life or one of the many fictionalized accounts of his life.  The title of this series is sometimes translated into English as “Women in Benkei-checkered kimono”.  This series of prints is listed as number 137 in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1961).  The prints are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ôban.

 

Description: young woman offering a dish of delicacies to a cherub-like infant clinging to her

Benkei reference: The episode Ataka no matsu (Pine trees at Ataka) episode.  Ataka is the title of a noh play with the same theme as the kabuki play Kanjinchô

Schaap: 9.1

 

Description: A disheveled woman before a mirror holding a razor

Benkei reference: The jizori (Benkei shaving his hair) episode

Schaap: 9.2

 

Description: young woman holding an uchiwa (non-folding fan) and looking at a lantern designed with “The moon over Miidera” motif.  Her obi is decorated with emblems related to Benkei.

Benkei reference: The Miidera no kane (The bell at the temple of Miidera) episode

Schaap: 9.3

Another state of the above design

 

Description: Woman holding a naginata-hoozuki (a fertility symbol) in her left hand, standing next to a bridge pillar.  Her obi is decorated with tsuba

(sword guards)

Benkei reference: This mirrors the Gojôbashi (Gojô bridge) episode in which Benkei meets Yoshitsune for the first time

Schaap: 9.4

 

Description: A woman straightening pieces of cloth on a wooden plank in order to dry them

Benkei reference: The slanting angle of the plank and the deer on the cloth refer to the Hiyodorigoe no sakaotoshi (A surprise attack on Hiyodorigoe) episode

Schaap: 9.5

 

Description: A married woman with blackened teeth is preparing tea with water from the Horikawa.  She is holding a pair of irons to light a fire in the hibachi

Benkei reference: Horikawa is the name of Yoshitsune’s mansion in Kyoto where he and his followers, Benkei among them, stayed during their flight from Yoshitsune’s half-brother, Yoritomo, after the defeat of the Taira.

Schaap: 9.6

 

Another state of the above design

 

Description: A young woman praying in a boat, sitting next to a basket with vegetables.  There is a small temple in the background

Benkei reference: This refers to the Funa Benkei (Benkei in the boat) episode

Schaap: 9.7

 

Title: Poem by Ryûkatei Tanekazu (柳下亭種員)

Description: A young woman about to inscribe a small wooden tablet for the pot of chrysanthemums at her side

Benkei reference: a reference to the Suma no seisatsu (A notice board at Suma) episode

Schaap: 9.8

 

Keyblock print for the above design

 

Description: A young woman looking over her right shoulder while holding a traveling mirror with a large carp on its cover.  Her obi is decorated with a Buddhist symbol referring to Benkei dressed as a priest.

Benkei reference: The carp refers to the Oniwakamaru to koi (Oniwakamaru and the carp) episode.  Oniwakamaru was Benkei’s childhood name.

Schaap: 9.9

 

Description: A woman reading a calendar while resting her right elbow on a storage box

Benkei reference: an allusion to the Kanjinchô (charity subscription list) episode

Schaap: 9.10

 Schaap” refers to listing in Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi by Robert Schaap (Hotei Publishing, Leiden, 1998).

 

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