Ikkyū's Tale of Hell: Segawa Kikunojō V as courtesan Jigoku-dayū

Accession Number

Ikkyū's Tale of Hell: Segawa Kikunojō V as courtesan Jigoku-dayū

Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Artist Nationality
Japanese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
woodblock print on paper

14 7/16 in x 9 13/16 in (36.6 cm x 25 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Dr. James Hayes

Subject matter
Ikkyū jigoku banashi (Ikkyū's Tale of Hell): Segawa Kikunojō as courtesan Jigoku-dayū

Kuniyoshi apprenticed in Toyokuni's studio at a young age. As the son of a pattern designer, Kuniyoshi incorporated a rich range of textile patterns into his prints. Kunisada was Kuniyoshi's colleague and is said to have influenced Kuniyoshi's drive to produce increasingly innovative and prolific series. 

The figure depicted in this print is actor Segawa Kikunojō playing the part of the courtesan Jigoku-dayū. In the kabuki play, Ikkyū's Tale of Hell, this female character encounters the eccentric Zen monk named Ikkyū (1394-1481) in a brothel. She witnesses the monk dancing with other courtesans but sees the beautiful women as skeletons. Though this vision fades, she realizes enlightenment through its message: death, or impermanence, is lurking even beneath the most glittering comely facade.
In this print, her sumptuous clothing references the religious awakening of the story. King Enma (the wrathful god in Buddhism who judges the dead and presides over the hells) is prominently displayed as she lifts the heavy fabric. He looks fiercely down at the demons who move across her robe near the hem. Her sleeves bear the images of enlightened ones, or buddhas. It is unsurprising that she has an image of hell on her clothing – her name is a mix of the lowest and highest ranks of courtesans: jigoku, literally “hell,” was a term for the lowest ranked courtesan; tayū (read dayū in combination with jigoku) was the term for the highest ranking courtesan. Her high status is recognizable through the ornate hair adornment and luxurious, layered clothing.
The lineage of actor Segawa Kikunojō was known for their beautiful faces and figures. There is a famous anecdote for the fifth generation Kikunojō: in the middle of a performance, a country bumpkin, mesmerized by his feminine beauty, shouted out loud and asked if he had man’s balls.

Physical Description
In this image, a woman wields a whisk at something unseen to her right, raising her hand high in front of the white moon. Her hair is decorated with gold rods. She wears an elaborate robe, hemmed in blue and white, with demons and monsters running along the bottom. Other images on the robe include a seated woman strumming a koto, and a bull-faced demon holding a cauldron above flames with his feet. Enlightened beings float on clouds on the sleeves. Grasses poke out behind the woman, and an autumn vine decorates a red pillar to her left.

Inscriptions: Publisher's seal: Ko, Shin'iseko (cut off); Censor's seal: Kiwame; Signature: Kuniyoshi

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
hell (doctrinal concept)
theater (discipline)

10 Related Resources

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Death Personified
(Part of 6 Learning Collections)
Death and Dying
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
Kabuki Images
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Heavens, Hells, and Afterlives
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W21 Mueggler - ANTHRCUL 337 - Death, Dying, Afterlife
(Part of: Resources Made by Isabel Engel)
"Japan", Gender, etc.
(Part of: body, physicality and form; mod/contemporary religious imagery (Asia Galleries Winter 2022 DRAFT))

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted