Ishikawa Tomonobu (Ryûsen)
Ichinoya Jirōbei and the Ghost of Osayo (Fuji)
c. 1686

From an album with 12 illustrations of love stories (higa kumimono) Signed: Gamatsuken Ryusen ga and seal(?) oban, yoko-e, 25.4 x 35.2 cm; sumizuri-e

From an album with 12 illustrations of love stories This mitate-e (“travesty”) is also a reference to a real historical event in kabuki theatre, the murder of the woman-servant Osayo (Fuji). The name of the main character can be recognized in the three bold characters “Ichinoya” on the screen and the lettering decorating the robe. Behind the byobu (screen) the ghost of Osayo, the murder victim, can be seen. Japan_48-127.

Geyger, inv. no. 16396 (KG p. 18/KGE p. 28)

ISHIKAWA Tomonobu (Ryūsen) (active 1680-1713): Ryūsen was at the same time woodblock master, writer and cartographer. He worked mainly on book illustrations as a follower of Moronobu, but also produced some black-and-white print sheets in horizontal ôban format, his most important contribution to woodblock art.

J. G.G.

This and the following leaf are from an album of twelve illustrations dating from the year Jōkyō 3 (1686). Six are by the hand of Ryūsen and six by FURUYAMA Moroshige (1684-1695), a pupil of Moronobu. They illustrate IHARA Saikaku’s novel „Kōshoku gonin onna“, „Five Sensuous Women“. The leaf in question bears Ryūsen’s signature in the form of his gō (artist’s pseudonym). To judge by the shape of the cartouche and the style of this and the following leaf, they come from the same album. Another impression of the first leaf is to be found in the Tokyo National Museum. The second leaf has not previously been published in any of the literature available to us. Both come from the collection of Friedrich Succo, the well-known woodcut researcher of the beginning of the century.

In the room of a brothel its name, Ichino-y, is written on the folding screen – a young man is sitting on the ground, leisurely puffing at his pipe. The sign „ichi“, the brothel’s crest, appears twice in circles on his robe. Three inscriptions can be read on his knees: jū (ten), ryō (wonderful) and hei (standard), from right to left. At first glance these appear to represent an advertising slogan fort he brothel. However, serveral hidden allusions are certainly intended. The man is looking up to a pretty girl who has obviously just entered. With her hands hidden inside of her robe, she is looking down at the floor in embarrassment. Her kimono is embellished with carnations, her uchikake with big wheels. A kimono with a design of snow crystals on a black background is hanging on a large clothes stand. Incense is burning on a black lacquered table in the tokonoma. An iron candelabra next to the man illuminates the room. It is night. Behind the screen there is a ghost in form of a woman with long flowing hair and tortured facial expression. She is holding a slender walking-stick in her hands. Her white kimono is bare of decoration. Since the lower half of her body, including her feet, is missing, she is most certainly a ghost. She is probably the jealous, unredeemed soul of a woman who, though dead, is still unable to free herself from earthy bonds, or the jealous ghost of a living woman. Since the young man in the kimono bears the emblems of the establishment, he is more likely to be a member of staff than a guest. The artist has written a seventeen-syllable poem, senryū (or zappai) in the cartouche:

Mikazuki wa
The Three-Day moon,

mitsumu mitsumu ni
an acquaintance

suguru en.
which passes, while one is still starting after it.

The „Three-day moon“ (mikazuki) is the slender sickle of the moon which can be seen only for a brief interval in the evening sky and which soon goes down. Before one has had time to fully savour the beauty of its appearance, and before one has established a „relationship“ (en) with it, the moon has already set. Mikazuki jorō is the name used in the brothel district, in which the depicted scene is set, for young prostitutes who appear just a short time and than vanish before the guests have had time to establish a „relationship“ (en), either because they have found a rich admirer or because they do not want to continue working in this profession. Ryūsen’s rendering of the word „mikazuki“ employs instead of the number „three“ (mi), the polite prefix „mi“. He thus offers an interpretation of the poem which, in view of this modification, should be rendered as follows:

Like the Three-day moon –
As one stares after it
The relationship is already over.

Japanese research has also failed to identify the content of the scene. Ryūsen may, however, have based it on an event from the Genji-monogatari, namely the attack at night of the jealous ghost of Princess Rokujō, who killed Genji’s secret mistress Yūgao in front of his own eyes. The carnation decoration on the girl’s robe, the ghost, and the night-time setting may provide sufficient references. Other elements should be noted. In this and the following leaf, the wheel, the Buddhist symbol of fate, appears on the robes of the people entering the scene. Snow crystals on the robe in the background, and the moon mentioned in the poem, remind one of the story of the Chinese orphan, Ryōto, who was so poor that he could not afford light for his nightly studies. Ryōto collected snow in front of his window, which reflected the light of the moon. As we know from other leaves, too, Ryūsen purposely interchanged phonetically similar characters. The two characters on the young man’s left knee may also be read as „Ryōto,“ thus referring to the persevering young man of the Chinese legend.

ISHIKAWA Ryūsen is also the author of the Kōshoku Edo murasaki („The Purple Colour of Sensuous Edo“), for which FURUYAMA Moroshige created illustrations running to twelve album leaves. On a double page from the five-volume work owned by Mr. and Mrs. Hillier, we can see the considerable interdependence of both artists as far as the illustrations of keisei (courtesan) themes are concerned. Figures and their surroundings are proportional to each other. As in the leaf by Ryūsen described here, the artist Moroshige places his signature on an object within the picture, namely on the picture scroll in the tokonoma. The use of the same props is also of interest. There is an identically packed parcel, a toilet case, lying in the tokonoma of Ryūsen’s second woodblock, as in the aforementioned leaf by Moroshige. The black lacquered table with curved legs and inserted vase of flowers is repeated in another leaf by Moroshige in the Buckingham Collection, Chicago, in which the said toilet case also appears.

Whether it is admissible to interpret the letters on the young man’s knees as also representing the artist’s signature – in a similar manner to SUGIMURA Jihei who sometimes signed his work in this way – is a matter of discussion. Both characters on the young man’s left knee in the reading „Ryōjū“ are perhaps another name for „Ryūsen“, while the character „hira“ could refer to Moronobu’s talented pupil Morohira (worked late 17th c/beginning of the 18th), who is chiefly known as an exceptional colourist.