Toyohara Kunichika 豊原國周 (1835–1900)
Dashing and Popular Roles of Ichimura of Edo
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1864
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of Victor S.K. Houston in honor of his wife, Pinao Brickwood Houston, 1941

Onoe Kikugorō V (1844–1903) inherited the stage name of Ichimura Kakitsu IV in 1863 at the age of 19. He was well known for roles conforming to the male archetype known as otokodate.

As Japan’s feudal society—divided into samurai, farmers, artisans, merchants, and outcastes—became increasingly stratified and corrupt, otokodate were valiant individuals who expressed moral outrage and intervened upon witnessing blatant abuses of power and other instances of injustice. Their sense of morality, however, was often quite subjective: while some behaved lawfully, others were deceitful scoundrels who disregarded the rules of society, which they considered to be inherently flawed. What bound together these disparate characters was their charming combination of individualism, self-confidence, and bravery—characteristics that were extolled in bushido (the traditional samurai code) but were in fact sadly lacking in the samurai one encountered in daily life.

Here Kunichika portrays Kikugorō V in five such otokodate roles (from right to left): the humorous, cross-dressing ruffian Benten Kozō, the terribly scarred swordsman Yosaburō, the fearless bandit Inga Kozō, the prodigal son Igami no Gonta, and the handsome pickpocket Ushiwaka Denji. The artist’s brilliant decision to depict the characters interacting with one another offers us views of Kikugorō V from multiple vantage points and allows us to imagine his actual appearance all the more vividly.

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