Tōshūsai Sharaku, The Actors Nakamura Wadaemon and Nakamura Konozō, a woodblock print

Edo period, 5th month, AD 1794

The artist Tōshūsai Sharaku worked for a only a brief period, for ten months between 1794 and 1795. Very little is known of him before or after this period and his identity is the object of much conjecture among historians of Japanese art. The most likely theory is that he was one Saitō Jūrobei originally a actor in the service of the Lord of Awa.

Sharaku had a special talent for characterizing his subjects by differentiating their facial features. Furthermore, the development of the okubi-e (‘large head' portraits) in the mid-1790s encouraged a more penetrating analysis of character. This print shows a scene from the play 'A Medley of Tales of Revenge' (Katakiuchi noriai-banashi) performed at the Kiri Theatre in the fifth month of 1794. The two subjects are strongly contrasted. On the right, Wadaemon in the role of Bodara no Chōzaemon, a customer visiting a house of pleasure, with his sharp, angular features, pleads with Kanagawaya Gon, the chubby boatman, played by Konozō. The boatman's narrowed eyes and snub nose suggest that he is bent on striking a hard bargain.

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More information


L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

Narazaki Muneshige, and Yamaguchi Keisaburo (eds.), Ukiyo-e shūka, vol. 2 (Tokyo, shu eisha, 1979)

L. Smith (ed.), Ukiyo-e images of unknown Japa (London, The British Museum Press, 1988/89)


Height: 350.000 mm
Width: 242.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA 1909.6-18.053


Sir Ernest Satow Collection


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