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Exhibit Catalog to the Morris County Historical Society's "Out of the Closet" Exhibition

A Present-Day Suikoden

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Kunisada I
Actor Portrait of Nakamura Shikan IV
From the Series: A Present-Day Suikoden (Kinsei suikoden)
Circa 1862
Woodblock print
9 1/4 x 14 in.
 
 
Found in the Collection.

The Actor: Nakamura Shikan IV

 

 

Nakamura Shikan IV was a famous actor during the Meiji period, and toured all over Japan. He was extremely versatile, starring in sewamono dramas (domestic plays centering around the lives of commoners) and jidaimono dramas (historical plays). Nakamura played villain roles as well as male and female roles.

 

His rivalry with Bando Hikosaburo V was one of the greatest feuds between actors in kabuki history. Zoë Kincaid (author of "Kabuki, the Popular Stage of Japan") writes:

 

"So nearly matched in ability were Shikan and Hikosaburô, with but two years' difference in their ages, that they were pitted against each other, and their patrons often indulged in fights over them. During a performance, when these actors were playing together, they came through the audience by way of the two hanamichi (walkways upon which actors would enter and exit the stage), the one to the right of the stage a mere footpath, that to the left a platform that was in reality a continuation of the stage proper. They quarreled as to who should take the main hanamichi, and the dispute waxed so hot that they finally drew lots to settle the matter."

 

 

 

 

"A Present-Day Suikoden"

 

A "Suikoden" is the Japanese adaptation of the 14th-century Chinese vernacular novel "Shuihu zhuan," which recounts the exploits of a group of brave and righteous rebels on Mount Liang. "Suikoden" novels were extremely popular in Japan during the 19th century, inspiring  Ukiyo-e artists to make prints like the one above.

 

 

 

Kabuki Actors and Tattoos

 

In the late 18th century to mid-19th century, tattoos became a popular fashion statement in urban Japan. The tattoo found favor among the growing population of laborers, rickshaw pullers, criminals, firefighters, artisans, kabuki actors, and women of the pleasure quarters. For the merchants and samurai who moved to Edo (modern-day Tokyo), the tattooed actors, laborers, and courtesans were exotic to behold.

 

To the upper class, however, tattoos were generally frowned upon. A mark of individuality among commoners seemed like a signal of social unrest and between 1789 and 1801, the government banned tattoos - but this ban was usually ignored.