Praying for Hits in the Waterfall of Answered Prayers: Nakamura Shikan IV and Bandō Mitsugorō VI

Accession Number

Praying for Hits in the Waterfall of Answered Prayers: Nakamura Shikan IV and Bandō Mitsugorō VI

Utagawa Kunisada

Artist Nationality
Japanese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
woodblock print on paper

14 in x 9 1/2 in (35.56 cm x 24.13 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Pearl Sellards

Subject matter
In this image, kabuki actors Nakamura Shikan IV and Bandō Mitsugorō VI are dressed as firemen and standing underneath the "Waterfall of Answered Prayers".  The Japanese title is an extended pun: arigataki (thankful), taki (waterfall), tsubo (goal, lit. container).

While this image depicts actors, the appearance of the actors hints at a play on popular culture. Though kabuki actors would not have tattoos, the figures in the water sport bold inked designs. This is likely a reference to the bravery and drama of firemen in Edo. Firemen during the Edo period wore reversible uniforms, which after a successful firefight, were turned inside out to present elaborate and colorful designs as they victoriously paraded through the streets. The firemen would often also have these designs tattooed on their torso. Due to the popularity and esteem that firemen gained among the merchant class, shops would sometimes sell jackets made of thin fabric that depicted popular firemen’s designs in order to mimic the intricate tattoos. Additionally, firemen were one of the subjects of kabuki plays and such coats were worn by kabuki actors playing the roles of firemen. In this triptych, the definition of the coat has disappeared, leaving the actors looking as if they were tattooed.
Print artists depicting firemen or actors playing firemen created increasingly detailed and bombastic tattoos in the print designs. Kabuki performances mimicked and tried to one-up these prints in their costuming. Coming full circle, the designs seen in prints and at performances inspired new designs for tattoo artists. The kabuki theater, prints, and tattoos were drawn into a cyclical relationship of borrowing from, attempting to surpass, and influencing each other.

Physical Description
Two partially dressed men stand hip-deep in water in front of a waterfall. The edge of the cave is visible on the left. The man on the right is covered in elaborate tatoos and wears a sash around his belly and pads on his shoulders. He carries a sword in his left hand and is ringing a bell with his right. The other man is bowed under the waterfall's spray with his hands clasped in front of him. Another man's elbow is visible on the right.

Inscriptions: To, Enhiko (Publisher's seal); i 3 aratame (Censor's seal); Toyokuni hitsu (Signature)

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
H. O. Havemeyer
actors (performing artists)
bells (idiophones)
figures (representations)
prayers (oral works)
waterfalls (natural bodies of water)

1 Related Resource

Japan Pax Tokugawa 1600-1868
(Part of: Empires and Colonialism)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted