"Popular Ōtsu-e Phenomenon", 1848

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Folk paintings produced by anonymous artists in Ōmi Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture) during the Edo period came to be called Ōtsu-e (Ōtsu paintings) because they were sold in and around the town of Ōtsu, an official way station on the Tōkaidō road.

For this print, Kuniyoshi drew on the play Keisei hangonkō (The Beauty Whose Spirit Appears in the Incense Smoke), written for the puppet theater by Chika- matsu Monzaemon (1653–1724). In one dramatic episode, the authorities are about to arrest a certain artist named Matahei on false charges, but the characters in Matahei’s paintings magically spring to life and defend him. The composition was actually slightly subversive. Attempting to evade edicts forbidding the depiction of Kabuki actors, Kuniyoshi substituted the faces of famous performers for the Ōtsu-e characters’ faces. As if taunting government censors, he even pictured the warrior monk Benkei wearing kumadori (Kabuki makeup).

"Popular Ōtsu-e Phenomenon"
Artist Life
1798 - 1861
Accession Number
Curator Approved

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