[Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy (Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami)
Painted by Utagawa Kunisada I 1840 (Tenpō 11) Tokyo Shiryō Collection M139-13-2

This nishiki-e woodblock print is of the famous "rickshaw puller" scene from the Kabuki play Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami, a dramatization how of the great calligrapher Sugawara no Michizane was exiled to Dazaifu following a conspiracy in the Heian period. This print vividly depicts the conflict of the three brothers divided into friend and foe.

Yakusha-e, prints of Kabuki actors based on plays actually performed at the time, were produced widely. This one is thought to be based on a production at the Nakamura-za theater in 1840 (Tenpō 11). The role of Matsuōmaru was played by Ichikawa Ebizō V, clearly a famed actor at the time. Kabuki was a form of popular entertainment in the Edo period, and yakusha-e were widely circulated in the same way as portrait photographs were in later times. Kabuki was also the source of many fashion trends among the ordinary people of Edo, who were inspired by the coloring and designs of garments worn by popular actors, as well as their dressing styles, the knots they used in their waist sashes, their hairstyles, and accessories.